When to Cut That Scene

Inserting extra fluff scenes is a very common mistake for new writers. Useless scenes destroy a story’s pacing, turning a page-turner into a plodding pony. Luckily, they’re also easy to recognize; you just have to know what to look for.

Here are three questions to ask yourself when evaluating a scene:

1. If I Removed This Scene, Would Later Scenes Be Different?

A gripping plot is like a boulder tumbling down a hill; each point builds on the one before it and throws the story further, leading to an eventual crash at the bottom. If your scene shows that boulder taking a break to enjoy a grande mocha cappuccino, it halts the momentum, tossing your readers out of your tale.

2. Will My Viewpoint Character Remember This Moment in Ten Years?

This is especially important for character-focused stories. A scene that makes a strong impression on your viewpoint character pulls them a little farther down the road to the new person they’ll be at the end of your tale. A scene of just another day on the job isn’t taking them anywhere.

3. Is There Conflict or Tension in My Scene?

Arguments, battles, secrets and threats — that’s what entertainment is made of. Your scene should be a conflict between your viewpoint character and an opposing force or person, even if they’re two kittens engaged in a tickle fight.

If You Said “No” to 2 or More, Cut It

I can already hear your screams, dear writer. The tough part of this process isn’t recognizing what needs to be removed, it’s getting yourself to remove them. You love those scenes, otherwise they wouldn’t still be there.

So what are your other options?

  • Add conflict to your scene if it doesn’t have any. Often you can do this by turning a normal conversation into an argument. Take the people who are standing by complacently and make them hostile to your main character.
  • Combine two weaker scenes into a stronger one. Take the plot importance of one and add in the character development of another.
  • Summarize the important points. Briefly mention what happened in the cut scene in a narration paragraph. That way if it was important to the plot, the show will still go on.

If all else fails, cut the scene out, and instead post it online, include it in the appendix, or recycle it into another work. Don’t let it go to waste.

Collect All Three

Ideally, every detailed moment in your story would get a “yes” to all three questions. A simple “yes” in the beginning, a “yes!” in the middle, and a “OH GOD YES!” for the grand finale. That’s how a story hooks the reader and reels them into the boat.

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  1. Mary

    Thank you for this! Nephele Tempest linked to it, and it’s very useful – and much more encouraging about how and why to “kill one’s darlings” than other posts I’ve read on the subject. I’m going to tweet this! And may I submit it to Jon Gibbs for his “useful links about writing” blog?

    • Chris Winkle

      Thanks Mary. Absolutely, go right ahead!

      • Fuurinji Hayato

        Hi, Chris!
        Just wanted to say thank you for this article and the many other brilliant posts you have made!

        As a humble aspiring author, your information is extremely valuable to me and is helping me to not only formulate better ideas, but also improve on what I have already.

        This post was particularly useful as I seem to have a habit of getting carried away in my own prose without necessarily keeping scenes relevant to the plot.
        I have a lot of work to do. LOL.

        Thanks once again and I hope you are happy and well! ^w^

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