Working Those Scenes

Monday, August 1, 2011

I haven’t been reading any ‘how-to’ articles lately, but usually I try to refresh myself on the aspect of writing I plan to tackle.  I’m now in the second round of edits on Hardware, a Romantic Suspense novel. The editor is good – read that as brutal - and he’s taken out more stuff this time. I gotta admit that the excised material can should go, but it’s the sentiment attached to those phrases and sentences that are giving me a bit of a niggle.  In other words, it’s crunch time and all the chaff has gotta go – whether I like it or not.   

Writers know how easy it is to get stuck on bits of data we feel our stories can’t live without.  However, I know that taking out the sentences and paragraphs I feel are wonderfully written often lightens the prose, which makes for a better read. 

Apart from nixing crutch words and unnecessary tidbits, I force myself to look at each scene as a single unit.  I check for the following things:-

  • Does it have a snappy opening line?  One that will force the reader to carry on? 
  •  Does the middle live up to the beginning?  Or does the scene start to drag?
  •  Is any new information revealed by the end of the scene? 
  •  Do my characters and plot develop?
  •  And at the end, do I leave on a note that will carry the reader forward to the next chapter?
The checklist above can’t be applied while editing for grammar nits. It’s too important to lump with anything else, which is why I edit each chapter several times. 

The last step for me these days is to test the validity of each scene.  Sometimes I get all the excess material out and at other times, yet another round of trimming is required.  That’s when lean, fluent scenes emerge, and I’m satisfied enough to move forward.  I kinda get all hoppity-skippity-do like the woman below. 
What about you? Have you taught yourself not to get bogged down by those clever words/phrases and do you do anything differently in terms of deciding what to cut and/or keep. 


  1. That's a great checklist. I've had a mental list similar to yours. Maybe I should make an official one. Thanks for the thought, and good luck on Hardware!

  2. I have a whole folder of saved scraps from my writing. Knowing that I still have a copy of them makes it easier for me trim them off my writing. I also enlist the help of my writer buddy who knows how to talk me into cutting out pieces I don't need.

  3. David, I find it helps me to write things down, so I know exactly what I'm aiming for. Then there the fact that my mind tends to wander...

    Marlena, I can so identify with the leftovers. I usually hope I can use them later, but with time I usually forget.

  4. I loved my bits of data so much I decided to turn my book into a series. Now I don't feel so bad about cutting something out because I know I'll use it later. I have to remind myself there's plenty of blank pages waiting.

  5. I love your advice about how to approach each scene with ruthless yet necessary editorial eyes. You're right that those clever phrases can be like being in love with love--not the real thing, even if it is close. :)

  6. I had to cut 50,000 words from a recent work of mine. It was tough but I did it. I know what you're going through.

  7. Terrific checklist. When I first became serious about my writing in college, it was difficult to cut. But like anything, you get better at it with practice. Now I know that cutting makes it better, and so I don't feel so sentimental about it!

  8. Great checklist. I've learned not to fall in love with it the first time around.

  9. You have a good system going for you. I usually take all the suggestions made by my critique group into consideration and then decide what to cut or revise. There are so many different steps, and each one is important. Good luck with Hardware.

  10. E.R.,
    Good strategy. The thought of being able to use those bits later does make the process easier.
    Thanks for stopping in.

    I like that - being in love with love. :) Definitely not the real thing at all.

    That’s a lot of words to cut. I’m quailing at the thought of that, but yes, it can be done if that’s what’s necessary.

    Hi, Laura,
    True, I do get better at editing as I go along. The thought of words that are just fillers makes cutting easier and quicker.

    Good way to work. You definitely won’t have a problem when it’s time to edit.

    Oh yeah, the critique group has become an important part of my writing. Someone usually catches the stuff I manage to miss.

  11. Awesome checklist! When it comes to revisions and editing, sometimes the backspace bar is a writer's best friend, especially with sentences we can't bear to part with.

  12. Thanks, Madeline. I need to learn some of that backspace bar discipline. :)

  13. Hi JL. Just wanted to stop by your blog, since you visited mine a while back. I try to stay on top of that and return the favor, but I've been getting really behind on things lately. Got you in my Google Reader now, though, so I'll stop by from time to time. :)

  14. Hi, Lisa,

    Thanks for dropping in. I appreciate the return visit.

  15. Very informative post, J.L., one that I'm going to link to in my coming post on revisions :)

  16. Thanks, Damyanti! Always happy to be useful and relevant.

  17. Awesome checklist, J.L. I don't have anything like it for my short stories -- but maybe I should. Thanks.


Don't be shy, I'd love to hear what you think.