Our Round Robin Blog Hop for July asks this question -- Do you ever delete scenes? When and why do you delete them? And what do you do with them? Do you save them? Or just toss them?
Every book I start has a folder and one of the first files in that folder along with the book bible is one called Bits & Pieces. To start with, since I’m not a plotter, and not all my writing is done linear so I pop scenes that come to me, but aren’t ready to appear in the book in this file. Sometimes, as I lay in bed waiting for sleep to claim me, or while walking on the beach without earbuds and someone else’s book playing back in my ear, whole scenes will come to me. Sometimes it’s a conversation two of my characters have, or sometimes it’s a vivid scene, complete with all the senses of something that happens to them. Early on in my writing career, other authors suggested keeping a notebook by my bed to jot down these thoughts and ideas, or carrying a small recorder to pop them into. The recorder might work in the car or while on the beach, but I’ve learned that if I have an idea in bed at night – just get up, wake the computer up and start typing while all the thoughts are fresh and clear. It helps that I’m retired from my 9-5 job and it’s okay to be working on a book at 2:00 am. I put whatever I type up into my Bits & Pieces file. Same goes for brilliant bits that hit me in the shower – skip picking out clothes and getting dressed first – just wrap a towel around myself and go type it all up right now.
Since I already have this file in my book folder – if for one reason or another a scene currently already in the story isn’t working, why toss all that work out when I can cut and paste it into the Bits & Pieces file. You never know if part or all of it might fit really well somewhere else. I have in the past cut huge chunks of text that weren’t working and hit delete, then days later or weeks later, I come to a place where I think – OMG – this is where that scene should be, only it’s gone. Along with anything that was really brilliant about it. But if it’s the Bits & Pieces file I can go copy it and drag it back into the manuscript. Might need significant editing or rearranging, but still, the ideas, words, thoughts and dialog are there to get started with.
So, why would I cut a scene from a manuscript. So many reasons. One I’ve already hinted at – didn’t fit in that particular chapter or place. Maybe didn’t fit in this book at all, but who knows … I write series … it might fit in a later book, just change the names if appropriate. Another reason for removing a scene is that it does not move the plot forward. You might love the clever wording or the sparkling dialog you created, but it does absolutely nothing for the plot. Or you might realize as you go back over it, that it is mostly info-dump. And any good author knows there are other ways to tell a reader things they need to know without large chunks of infodump which drag the pace to a standstill and tend to bore the reader.
Sometimes I remove a scene – temporarily. I realize my timing is all wrong. This often happens when I am editing after the first draft is done, or if I’ve been away from my book for a while and come back needing to go back over what I’d written previously to get myself in gear again. And suddenly I realize I’ve gotten things happening in the wrong order. The POV character learns something they can’t know until somewhere later in the story, or yesterday this guy got shot and today, instead of being in a hospital bed where he belongs, he’s going surfing with a buddy or back on the beat. I need to give him time to recover first. In the last chapter this kid celebrated his 12th birthday and today he’s driving a car? If you don’t have a timeline in mind or sketched out when you start, it’s easy to get things out of order. So, you need to clip scenes and drop them elsewhere in the manuscript, or in my case, in the Bits & Pieces file until the right time and place appears.
Another reason scenes get removed is when I discover I’ve painted myself into corner with no way out. Chances are these places will end up in a circular file eventually, but for now, they go into Bits & Pieces with other things I haven’t decided where to put. Even if the corner isn’t totally inescapable, I might be looking at a huge sagging middle. I stare at the manuscript, and remember, I’m a pantser here so I can’t just refer to my detailed plot outline (which I don’t have) and figure out where to go next. Often I can get over this hump by asking myself some serious questions about how important all the recent scenes that got me into this slump are. Maybe they contain stuff that I absolutely need to have, but maybe they would be better if I rewrote them from scratch. Or just move them to that other file for now, play with them there and save them for later. Or maybe they just aren’t that important after all. Or they just don’t fit this story.
Dealing with scenes that don’t work where I’ve got them is like when my puppy finds a lovely big stick on the beach and drags it home, then tries to bring it into the house, but it won’t fit through the door. She backs up and tries again, tilting her head one way, then the other. Drops it and picks it up in a different place and tries again. Still won’t go. Eventually she either gives up deciding she really didn’t need that stick after all, or she carefully grabs it by one end and drags it through the door. And sometimes she leaves it on the step for the next time she comes out to play. Might have been a great stick but it didn’t fit where she initially wanted to take it.
So, now you know what I do about cutting scenes – hop on over and see how these authors deal with cutting – or not cutting – their favorite scenes, or scenes that don’t belong.
Dr. Bob Rich
Rhobin L Courtright