I host a thread over on Wattpad.com called: ‘Teen Writers- Need Writing Help? The Teacher Is In’, where users, mostly teenagers, are invited to ask me any writing related question. I never pretend to know everything, and Lord knows I don’t, but I do the best I can to shell out some advice. Some of the users are brand-spankin’ new to writing, while others have been doing it forever. I thought it’d be a great idea to share some of the questions I’ve received, and some of the “advice” I’ve given.
Cutting a Scene
When I originally answered this question I tackled it assuming the poster meant chapter instead of scene. Today I’m not going to make any assumptions and actually address how you decide if a particular scene in a chapter, a moment in your story, should stay or go.
Here’s my general rule of thumb:
Is the scene setting the mood?
I’ve never been a terribly descriptive writer. I’m completely aware of it, and it’s my own fault. Why? Because when I read I usually skim over a good chunk of descriptions just to get to the good parts. What descriptions do I stop and read though? Those essential to setting a mood. A well placed description of the setting, feelings of the characters or an action-packed scene really can impact your reader’s experience, so make sure you take care with these scenes. Don’t overdo them and make sure you’re really picking appropriate words that will set the mood you want your reader to feel.
Is the scene helping to develop a character or a relationship between characters?
Just like how when you first meet someone you don’t know everything about them right away, readers shouldn’t know everything about your characters straight off the bat either. Little by little they should get some insight. So, if your scene gives a glimpse into another layer to your character, it definitely should be kept in.
The same can be said for the relationships between your characters. These need to be developed too. It’s one thing for your main character to have a best friend, but what’s the dynamic like in their relationship? Can the best friend talk your main character into anything, implying she’s the dominant one in the relationship? Do they communicate with just a look because they’re so close? Little moments can suggest a lot about people’s relationships, use them wisely.
Is the scene moving the plot forward?
This is the most important question of them all. If there is no point to the scene, it doesn’t need to be there. If it’s not doing any of the above, and it’s not moving the plot forward, then it’s time to make the heartbreaking decision to hit the delete button.
Sometimes this can really stink. Sometimes you can create a lovely scene and in the end you have to say good-bye to it because it just doesn’t serve a purpose in the overall picture of things. It isn’t easy. I’ve mentioned before how I’ve battled with myself, wanting to keep a particular part just because I’ve loved a certain moment, or even a measly sentence. But in the end you’ve got to do what’s best for your story, and that means getting rid of the scenes that don’t move the plot forward.
Does it play into the subplot?
This is a bonus question since not all books have subplots. If yours does, and the scene plays an important role in that storyline, then obviously you should keep it. Sometimes this might not be apparent to the reader right away. But if you do have a subplot, make sure you weave it organically into your story!