3 Reasons You Have to Cut That Scene

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Imagine there’s a 500-word chunk of your story that you crafted, carefully shaping it to flow with the rest of the chapter and fit into your story’s themes. It may have taken you 15 or 20 minutes to write that section, read over it, make adjustments to wording or style, and move on to the next section.

But then something changes.

You figure out a way to better integrate those themes into a later scene, or in a different way. The story moves far beyond and above the now meager words in that block of text. Your cursor moves over it, highlighting it in soft blue. And then it’s gone.

Your word count jumps down faster than you could ever revive it, and those sentences you molded have disappeared into nothingness, with not even the shreds of graphite-stained eraser scattered over your desk in memoriam.

Erasing your own writing is hard. Unfortunately, it is something we must all face as writers, especially when we’re navigating the uncertain waters of revising a manuscript.

So just incase you need that extra push to press Ctrl + X on that extraneous section…

3 Reasons You Need to Cut that Scene

1) It holds up the narrative rather than moving it forward

2) You found a better way to demonstrate the same action

3) You discovered you didn’t need the scene at all

I’d like to expand on #3 a bit.

There is a pivotal sequence in WoEM leading up to the mid-story climax. One set of characters is running away, while another set of characters is chasing them.

In my alpha draft, I had one character catch up with the runners and warn them about the chasers. And that’s it. He didn’t really serve any purpose other than to tell the people who were running away that the people chasing them were near.

He was a middle man — a convenient plot device used to bring certain events and information to light. At first, I thought that this built tension in the story.

What will the runners do when they find out?!

Wrong.

You know what builds tension? When the reader knows that the chasers are bearing down on the runners, and the runners have no bloody idea!

It seems so obvious to me now, but it was not when I first wrote out this multi-chapter sequence.

So now, I get to cut out about 1,500 words of the middle man… middling in the story. I’m trimming the fat!

What’s the biggest section you’ve ever cut from a draft because it stopped serving its intended purpose?

Steve D

8 thoughts on “3 Reasons You Have to Cut That Scene”

  1. I’m in the middle of a revision and just decided I need to cut a semi-main character. She is actually a distraction, fluff to add to the word count. She was never planned but as you know when you are writing, your story has the tendency to take on a life of it’s own, and it doesn’t always take you where you need to go. I may be cutting as many as 10,000 words. Rolling up my sleeves and getting ready to start.

    1. Wow! I admire your determination. Certain characters due tend to run away with the story on us. Whenever I encounter a part of my story that needs to be trimmed down for length, etc., I make a note to consider coming back to that aspect as a short story. Maybe your character can still work, just in a context outside of the current story 🙂

  2. I have to cut out pieces of my writing all the time. I find that when I do my rough drafts for flash fiction, short stories or even my blog post I end up cutting out large chunks before the final piece. I find myself losing sometimes upwards of 300 to 500 words. I always tell myself that I can do it better with a second go around when I do this.

    Also, I really enjoyed this article! Thank you for sharing it.

    1. Thanks Sy! I end up cutting and trimming a lot of phrases or sections from my work during revisions as well. Sometimes it’s just difficult to get over that mental barrier that screams at us, “every word is sacred!” As writers, we have to be able to move on and make the story better.

      1. Yes, exactly! It’s like what Louis CK does with his stand-up. Sometimes he’ll tell his best joke first, because then he has to perform even better for the rest of the show.

  3. I think the hardest cuts are when I find myself writing a really strong scene between two characters, only to realize it doesn’t fit the story. Sometimes, out of curiosity, I’ll write scenes to develop and get to know a minor character, and before I know it they are looming large in someone else’s story, and I have to make a choice. Who’s story is this? Granted I save those pieces to later develop into their own story, but it’s still hard to cut a scene that I really love, but in the end it doesn’t belong in “this” story.

    1. Right! A lot of cuts I’ve made were developmental scenes or exposition, just to set my feet in the story, as it were. Those are definitely worth hanging onto for future stories or even just as reference points for your current story.

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