Monday, November 22, 2010

Sword-Sharp Scenes

The great Alfred Hitchcock once said, “A good story is life with the dull parts taken out.” I suppose that is exactly how we want our novels to read. No dull parts or scenes.

As I edit a first draft, I evaluate each scene and decide if it’s necessary and are there ways to make it better. Is there conflict or tension in every scene or perhaps it hints of further conflict to follow.
Deepening character relationships or revealing the emotions of said characters adds weight to a scene. Does the scene reveal an important clue to upcoming events or character motivations? Is the scene in the best POV for effective story telling?
Once I’m sure I must keep a scene I will try to tighten it a little. Can I start it later in the action or end it sooner to leave the reader wanting more?
And this leads to the final test. Does the scene compel the reader to keep going? How many times have you read a book before bed intending to stop at the end of the next scene? But you can’t stop after that one and go one more and one more until the clock reads one in the morning and you have to get up in five hours to get ready for work?
So take out the dull parts of your story. Make each scene work to keep the reader turning the pages. What things do you look for in a scene? Do you find yourself removing entire scenes during edits?


  1. I agree with every word. :)

    Have a happy Thanksgiving.

    Also, the video clip on my blog is from the movie Love Actually...yeah, that scene is weird, but funny and beloved among many, especially around the holiday. If you haven't seen the movie, I highly recommend it. Too many stars to list (which usually equates to a crappy film, but not in this case.) and while it is somewhat of a 'chick-flick' most men love it too.

    Again, Happy Thanksgiving.

  2. Oh, and sure. I will definitely remove entire scenes during revisions. I hack mercilessly. If it doesn't move the story forward, it goes, no matter how lovely the writing, or how many hours it may have taken.

    (I do save them to my 'deleted scenes" file, though. Unless it's crap. Then I just delete into the ether.)

  3. I heard that movie was good, Lola, though I haven't seen it yet. Maybe this holiday.
    I find the scenes most likely to be cut from my finished manuscripts are in the beginning. I've sliced out the entire first chapter in some of my books.

  4. I'll remove scenes during the first round of edits. After that, I tighten them up!

  5. I usually only remove after the first edits, Alex, if my editor recommends it and even then I might negotiate.

  6. Yep. I have a JUNKYARD full of parts and pieces I've taken out of my MS. But I can often plug them into other places in other books, so I just have to be patient and wait for the right moment to use these spare parts.

  7. I cut ruthlessly.
    And that's exactly what I'm doing right now. During my first round of edits, I cut almost 20k words.

    Have a great Thanksgiving!!!

  8. Stephen, I like the idea of a junkyard of spare parts. I might try that.
    Victoria, 20K is very ruthless but I know you have the courage to do it.

  9. Love the quote!!! Slashing is the best part of editing for me - I love to hack away at it. :)

    Have a terrific Thanksgiving!

  10. I actually am a reluctant slasher, Jemi. I do like to tighten scenes up but it hurts to slash even when I know I must.