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?
I just arrived home from my (get this) editing class where it's all about cutting and trimming. I like your suggestion for keeping an "extra scenes" file. I keep different versions of my stories sometimes. I also love the feature "track changes" in Word. If one of your trusted critique partners suggests cutting something and uses track changes on your document, you can "try it on" for size first without making the change permanent. I love your analogy with the fabric. Discarded in the end, but it served an essential purpose in the process.ReplyDelete
Thank you for your insightful and helpful comments, Debbie!ReplyDelete
Suzanne, great advice. I also keep an 'unused content' folder. You never know when that particular sentence, paragraph, or scene will be just right for another story.ReplyDelete
I loved the decorating comparisons. Letting go of favorite scenes is painful! I have a file of them also, just in case, two years from now an agent says...I love you story, but it just needs a little...cowbell. I'll know just where to look.ReplyDelete
We'll be ready for those editors and agents! Thanks for sharing, Kristi and Karen!Delete
You got started. Sometimes it takes a bolt to do that... Hope you like puns. I do. I'm sure you can tell.
I really do think this is a great way to look at cutting scenes. Thanks so much for sharing your creative way of looking at things.
Hi Linda, I love puns...one of my daughter's favorite series for middle graders is Kate Klise's 43 Old Cemetery Rd, filled with 'em.Delete
Thanks for passing along the name of this series. I plan to find them and read them all.ReplyDelete
Have fun! They are adorable little mysteries revolving around characters with names like "Olive C. Spense" (a ghostly mystery writer, naturally).Delete
I also keep cut scenes -- as well as back versions. I have about 20 versions of my current WIP -- and I've just finished the first draft.ReplyDelete
HI Margaret, with that many versions of a first draft, what is your system for keeping them straight? My computer files get overwhelmed with material that is too similar.ReplyDelete