By Suzanne Y. Cordatos
Whenever an editor or critique partner suggests that cutting a major scene would improve your work, do you chop it with a smile? Is that chunk of writing one of your favorite babies? How long does it take you to craft such a great scene? Hours? Days? Months? When asked to cut the cord, did you expend a lot of energy defending your little bundle of exposition?
Step back. Take a deep breath. Do something different. Let’s re-decorate a room, shall we?
Pick a room in need of attention. Mine is the basement. It recently got walls, floors, a bathroom, bedroom and rec room space, all in need of a color scheme, fixtures, accessories, lighting, flooring, carpet, etc. Okay! Overwhelmed yet? With no idea how to pull together a color scheme, I hunted for a rug, pillow, or curtains for inspiration. I finally found a bolt of fabric that incorporated all my favorite colors and, when the space was finished, would be perfect to make into coordinated curtains.
The patterned fabric worked well. It became easy and fun to choose colors for walls, trim, flooring and accessories. However, when the space was finished I no longer wanted to use that fabric for curtains. The finished spaces, with the wonderfully coordinated color scheme, needed something simpler at the windows. The pattern didn’t work as I thought.
Was it a mistake to buy the fabric? No. It served its purpose well, helping me make decorating selections. Its purpose changed, however, as the project developed and changed. Perhaps much like your scene that needs to be (face it) chopped.
Writing out that scene maybe helped you understand the bigger theme, or perhaps it helped you better understand your character’s motivations. Writing it out was valuable time spent, but maybe it is time to cut the scene from its current crib. Perhaps it has already served its purpose.
How do you recognize when a scene isn't working and you need to give it up? Writers spend a lot of time trying to force a favorite scene to work rather than cut it completely and start over with a new approach. I keep a file called "extra scenes" so when I delete it from a work-in-progress I feel it isn't gone "forever." Any other suggestions?