How to Decide Whether to Keep a Scene

February 15, 2019

 

One of the best pieces of advice you'll hear is this: to be an excellent writer, you must first learn to kill your darlings. Most writers refer to flowery turns of phrase when they say this, but this advice applies to larger chunks of writing as well. Sometimes the darling you must kill is an entire scene. But how do you know when to delete a scene altogether rather than rewriting it?

 

The most surefire way to determine whether a scene is truly necessary is by asking a few key questions:

 

  • How does this scene move the plot forward? How do the events in this scene impact your novel's external plot? Do they help your characters get from point A to point B? Does it show them how to overcome an obstacle in their path? If you don't have a clear answer to this question, you probably need to cut the scene.

  • How does this scene develop the character(s) involved? What does this scene reveal to readers about the character(s) in it? What does it reveal to the characters? Do they grow or change in a noticeable way here? Make sure every scene is important to the characters' internal journeys as well as to the external plot.

  • Can you remove the scene without significantly altering the story? If you answer this question with "yes," it means the scene either isn't accomplishing its goal or is unnecessary. 

In essence, what you are trying to determine is how this one scene impacts not only the scenes directly before and after it, but also your entire novel. The best scenes change your characters' lives in so many ways that without them, the entire story would fall apart.

 

Final advice

 

Writing is difficult and nobody likes to part with their hard-earned words, but sometimes deleting a scene is the best thing you can do for your novel. If you're worried about a scene, stop to ask yourself the questions above before you rewrite it. You might realize that you're better off deleting it altogether.

 

Dianna Gunn is the author of the fantasy novel “Moonshadow's Guardian” and the Write Plan content writer. She also blogs about creativity, life and books at The Dabbler.

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