Saturday, February 18, 2012

Love the scene? Great! Toss it.

A writer’s voice I’ve never heard haunts me. As I work through revisions of my WIP, the voice repeats a sentence whenever I start thinking, ‘This scene doesn’t fit with the revision, but it came out so well, isn’t there a way to keep it?’ The voice answers with: Not every idea, not even every good one, has to be included.

I wrote a scene in draft 2 where Neal receives a box of things that belonged to his kids and his women, after he’s left the gang. He realizes MF has murdered not just the women but the kids as well. I like how emotional Neal gets; for once, he doesn’t care that somebody sees his true self and his vulnerability. He shows the items to Sandy one at a time and talks about each person he’s lost. It is, rather sadly, a good scene.

However. Things didn’t stop there.

When doing draft 3, I realized the tension would be heightened if I either showed the murders with Neal unable to stop them, or showed him finding the bodies right after the murders. I chose one of those options and, to help pull readers in, I did most of those scenes in Sandy’s POV. Through Sandy, readers get to experience Neal’s loss first-hand, making it more powerful.

I read over draft 2 again. Ohh, I moaned, but look at this part, it’s touching how Neal describes his little kids; how it’s clear that he realizes how much he loves them only after they’re gone. Not every idea, not even every good one, has to be included.

One of the problems with those scenes in draft 2 is that it could be argued I did a fair amount of *telling*. In draft 3 there’s more *showing*, which is more appropriate for something so emotional.

That’s just one example. Bob Kernen’s sentence has been a hot knife through the butter of my writing so, so often. It still hurts to lose scenes that I like (or love), but as I like to say, if I wanted to do something easy, I’d have taken up flower arranging. Anyway, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have gotten to the point of realizing how to improve something if I hadn’t practiced on scenes that got tossed. By writing everything as if it was the turning point of the story, I practice making scenes the best they can be.

I think this is similar to something I've read about some drummers' approach to songs. When deciding what to play for any given song (especially ones recorded by other people) they don't *overplay*. They do what's best for the song. A few rock drummers I've read about have said they've discovered how powerful well-placed silence can be.

I keep the parts I decide not to include in the actual story. Occasionally, phrases get resurrected in other scenes; sometimes dialogue gets used by another character; I may just keep it to re-read when I’m too tired to write but want to stay connected to the characters.

Not every idea, not even every good one, has to be included. To further illustrate the idea, I’ll end the post here, even though I could say more about it. Go on back to your own story and write!


  1. This is my biggest writing hurdle to overcome. I have a horrible time keeping only the necessary details and scenes in my work. The universe is vast and I'm an explorer, yeah?

    But then comes the edit. And Chop. Chop. Chop. If only you can decide which ones...

  2. Hi Nick. Yeah, I think a lot of writers have that problem. It's ironic how you're supposed to get into your characters' heads, but then when you have their thoughts & feelings, you're not supposed to include them all -- !