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On Scenes and Editing

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virginiatesta13 asked: “Another thing I wanted to ask was how do I understand what scenes are needed in order for the plot to develop and what scenes I should get rid of?”

There is no explicitly right or wrong way to choose which scenes to cut and which to keep. In general, reading you novel after not looking at it for a certain amount of time will help you to figure out what scenes are lagging and which ones are particularly interesting. 

If you book is still feeling long-winded, there can be too many interesting scenes and then too you’ll have to turn to relevance. Is there a way to combine scenes? Every scene should be meaningful to the plot, something is developing in some way. If you have more than one scene where the characters are kind of doing the same thing, think – do you need both? Sometimes the answer is yes, but often the answer is no. 

I know one writer who once said she had to get rid of all the scenes where her characters sat down to drink coffee. If you have multiple scenes where you characters are really not doing much more than that, you’ve either got to keep them short and sweet and get right back to the plot or you’ve got to make them worth keeping. 

I’m currently reading a book that I feel like has a lot of diner scenes. The characters go to a diner and sit around and eat. This doesn’t bother me though because so far, the diner scenes have been either short or insanely interesting. While they eat, new characters are introduced, they discuss plans that advance the plot, there’s bouts of major conflict – stuff happens that I, the reader care about. That’s why it works. 

While you’re reading your novel in editing, you’re not the writer any more. You have to be the reader. What do you as the reader care about? I think it helps to read with a red pen. Mark up your draft and take notes. What do you like? What don’t you like? Do it on a chapter by chapter basis. Once you start marking it up as a reader, you’ll have a slightly better handle on direction and what your story should be centered around. It’ll make knowing what to cut seem easier the more you do it. It is a process though and does take a lot of time and trial and error. 

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