How to Cut a Scene

I’d say about 1/3 of good writing is cutting dead weight out of your work. It’s gotten substantially easier for me to do this the longer I’ve written. Maybe it’s from trimming down articles and reports, maybe it’s my experience as an editor, or maybe it’s just that the more years you write, the more you know your best work from the weaker stuff. Having cut the last two and a half chapters I’ve written in the last month, I feel like giving three pieces of advice:

First, don’t worry about whether you’ll keep what you write in the final version. Write to discover. About your characters, your world, testing plot ideas, etc. If it doesn’t work, fine. You can take it out after it’s written, but don’t stare at a page worrying if you’re about to write your masterpiece or a pile of junk. As four wise men once said, Let it be.

Second, don’t be too generous when it comes time to edit. Are you excited about the scene? No? Neither will the reader be. Is the scene vital to the plot? Yes? Make it exciting. No? Cut that sucker. Can’t make it exciting? Find another way to tell the vital part of it–a way you are excited about.

Third: NEVER delete. If you cut a scene, you COPY and PASTE it to another document. I used to keep a “scraps” document in Word; now I use YWriter5 (*free* outline software) to better organize my cut scenes. You never know when you’ll want to cannibalize some description, quip, exchange, or idea that got lost in an otherwise not-so-special scene.

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