I didn’t realize until I was a young adult that some scenes in a movie didn’t make it into the final cut. Today we have DVDs where we can see the parts of the movie the director cut and left on the editing room floor.
When it came to my novel, I honestly didn’t think I’d have to do that. But, here I am, the stage of my novel where I am going over each scene, and I am “killing my darlings.” I want to keep most of the scenes, but I have a criteria I go over that may tell me otherwise.
If a scene doesn’t fit the criteria, slash. It’s gone.
- Is it a scene or sequel?
A scene has a goal, a conflict, and a disaster. A scene that is a sequel has reaction, dilemma, and a decision. Both are okay, but it’s good to know which is which. Read Randy Ingermanson’s article Writing the Perfect Scene for more details.
- What is the conflict?
If no conflict exists in the scene, either find a way to rewrite it into the story or cut it.
- What is the purpose of this scene?
A scene can have several purposes: introduce a character, build suspense, establish a mood, create a resolution, and on and on. If you can’t figure out the purpose of the scene, cut it.
- Do you have a consistent point-of-view? Would the scene be improved by changing the point-of-view?
I wrote some scenes from the viewpoint of my antagonist. However, I felt they were to “on-the-nose” so to speak. No subtext. So I rewrote the scenes from the viewpoint of another character in the same scene, and I felt the story became more effective. Why? Because it created suspense and mystery for my antagonist.
- Are you using sub-text in the action and dialogue of the characters? Are you avoiding on-the-nose writing?
Instead of telling what the characters are doing and saying, pay attention to what they’re NOT doing and saying. They may say one thing, but really mean another. It’s what is going on beneath the surface. Here’s a great article about using subtext.
- Does your character do something surprising?
Keep your readers on their toes by surprising them with your character’s reactions. In each scene, the character should do something unexpected.
- What emotion is the character feeling at the beginning of the scene? Does he or she have a conflicting or contrasting emotion by the end of the scene?
If the character is laughing and playing around at the beginning of the scene, is she pissed off at the end of the scene? May sure your characters express a range of feelings and moods throughout the scene.
- Does your character have expectations at the beginning of the scene that contrast with what happens during the scene?
If your character is expecting to win a competition at the beginning of scene, show him or her losing. Or something else unexpected. Or maybe the character expects to lose and ends up winning by cheating or something else. Surprise the reader.
- Are the characters only talking in this scene? If so, does it move the story along?
Your scene may only be a conversation, but it better move the story along.
- Does your scene have a beginning, middle and end? Does it seem like a mini-novel?
If you consider them a mini-story, then you’re more likely to write stronger scenes. C.S. Lakin talks about scene structure in her article.
I have a file in my Scrivener document called “Tool Box.” It has several lists to use for keeping my novel in check. One of those tools is a Scene Checklist. I review a scene using all of the above criteria. I hope you find it helpful.