Saturday, January 25, 2014

Novel Craft: When to Cut a Scene

Hi, folks. This is the last in a series about writing scenes.

This week I'm going to focus on cutting scenes. This is a tough procedure for writers. You worked hard to create that well crafted scene, and now you are going to toss it. How do you know you are making a good decision?

I hope to offer some easy guidance.  But here is the first thing you need to know. Cutting scenes hurts. There are some tender moments in there. There is action and drama. I see some sparkly dialogue and deep heart. There is some of your blood.

Take a deep breath. You can do this.

Over time I've developed a method that helps me decide whether to keep a scene or not.  Here are my questions.

1. Is this an essential scene?

Some scenes are essential to a story. You know the opening scene, the turning point scene, the darkest moment, the climax. These scenes may need improving but you never cut them. Yay!

2. Is this scene extraneous?

Extraneous scenes are like cup of extra icing on top. Gross. When I need some time or have to travel in a story, I end up with extraneous scenes. Scrutinize these scenes.  Did you just travel across the mountains so we could watch some big mountain monsters fight? I would cut that. Did you just hang-out at your house for five scenes because you needed five months to pass. Cut that back to a line: five months passed.

3. Is this scene boring?

Whoa, I am snoozing while reading my own book. Does anyone but my knitting crazy friends care about a knit/purl sequence with excessive counting of stitches? Are your characters talking about the weather? Do your characters write a cute story about some children and you have just used up three pages recounting it?  I just skipped that scene while reading. Boring.

4. Is this scene a bunch of chitchat? 

Prattle, babble, and blather. I mean is this whole scene just two or even more characters talking about absolutely nothing. The conversation isn't offending or injurious.  It's rather nice, pleasant even. OK, you can revise it and make it offending and injurious. That might help, but often the only answer is to just cut the scene.

5. Is this scene repetitive?

Oh, yes, for the fifth time you have decided to reiterate that these two characters really don't get along. Please consider that your reader may actually have some intelligence. This logic does not work: one scene clearly shows these two characters are at odds, then three scenes that do the same thing is probably better. NO.

6. Is this all about some other than your main character?

You have wandered into the dark land of this book is "not about Jack and Jill but it is now." The book was supposed to be all about Miss Muffet and the spider.  I think you have just spent two chapters worth of scenes on Jack and Jill. Cut those chapters and give those cuties their own book! 

7. Does the scene move the plot forward? 

You remember, the plot, you know from here to there and back again. I get it. Your character has issues with her hairdresser, but this book is about her trip to Saturn's moon, Titan. I don't understand why you have just spent three pages with the hairdresser.  Isn't your character wearing a helmet anyway?

Whenever you cut a scene, put it somewhere handy. Occasionally you will need to resurrect some portion of a deleted scene. Once in a blue moon you will put the whole scene back.

Thanks for dropping by.  I hope this little series has helped you out!  

Here is this week's doodle: "Yoda was wrong. Try there is."

And finally a quote for your pocket.

Take him and cut him out in little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine. That all the world will be in love with night.
William Shakespeare.


Leandra Wallace said...

Prattle, babble, and blather- love it! Thanks for the great advice. :)

MollyMom103 said...

I'm just saying... I'm glad you like the advice.

Vijaya said...

I am guilty as charged on all counts :) Now, the only thing I ask is if the story is moving forward. If not, cut, cut, cut.

Love that doodle! Such a happy "is".

MollyMom103 said...

Hi Vijaya,
I find the pain of cutting has made me consider being more focused as I write. This is good.

Liviania said...

Very good guidelines. (And of course, a little chit chat is nice to give characterization, but it can always be used to move the plot along. Otherwise, out.)

MollyMom103 said...

Hey there, Liviania, thanks for dropping by.

I was thinking about saying that if you can chit-chat like Jane Austen then awesome, but otherwise snip away.

What I don't like is coming across a scene where characters are just going on about nothing important. Blah, blah, blah. I skip those scenes. If the author does it enough times, I toss the book.

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OLR Dad said...

Helpful. Applying. Thanks.