Avoid committing runaround error in story

Sometimes novice authors write scenes that are fun and action-packed but simply don’t contribute anything to the story. These parts of the tale are called runarounds and are best avoided.

A good example are battle scenes written purely for the gore rather than to develop the character or to move the story forward. Similarly, a writer might have the protagonist look for some object or person that doesn’t advance the plot or resolve the story’s central problem. Or a writer might provide a descriptive paragraph about a character by offering information – such as his weight, height, where he attended elementary school – that is irrelevant to understanding his personality or why other characters treat him the way that they do.

Authors usually write runarounds because they’re failing their dramatic objective – which is how to solve the story’s central problem. Sensing that they need more action in the story, they toss in the sword fight or the humorous chase after a chicken. When giving overdetailed descriptions of characters, they problem arises from giving too much backstory. In that sense, the scene or descriptive paragraph is just running around the objective rather than aiming for it.

Getting rid of the runaround so you can develop a stronger plot and characterization is vital. Usually the problem for the author is that an outline was written with enough detail before jumping into the first draft; because of that, the author hasn’t thought enough about the storyline and how it will unfold. In other cases, the problem merely is overwriting. Authors usually know more their character and the plot than the reader and so include the nonessential facts, like lengthy descriptions of how the intestines spilled out of a henchman who the protagonist thrust a sword through. A strong edit is needed when that occurs.

The term was coined by the Cambridge Science Fiction Workshop’s Steve Popkes, who won a Nebula Award for Best Short Story.