Monday, June 17, 2013

Deleting Scenes

While waiting for the first of my cover proofs for Norton Road to arrive, I spent some time this weekend working on my next novel. This one, my third, is one I had written and set aside (that seems to be a process that works for me) because it wasn't ready to come out of the oven yet. Everything was progressing well until I hit that scene.

There's this scene, you see, that doesn't belong. It contributes nothing to the story. It's one of those scenes in which a reader can easily take a break from reading without anguishing over what happens next. Yes, that scene. The scene that can kill a novel.

Any time your reader closes your novel they should do so with regret, and only after several failed attempts at setting it aside. Because they have to get up the next morning to go to work, or because little Johnny just took a bounce off the trampoline and now his arm looks bent in an odd direction. What happens next should gnaw at them until they pick it back up and read more.

Knowing when to delete a scene should be easy. If it doesn't move the story forward, ditch it. If a reader can skip it and not miss anything important, cut it. It doesn't belong.

You see, I've known this scene had to be cut for a long time now. When I picked the manuscript back up and dusted it off this time around I remembered that scene and knew it had to be dealt with. My previous attempts at fixing it had failed. So why is it so hard to delete?

Deleting it will leave a hole, a time vacuum that must be filled. Something has to take its place because, while the scene doesn't provide the reader with any worthwhile information, it does make the transition between what came before and what comes after.

So last night I sat and stared at that scene. I read it. Read it again. Toyed with ways to fix it. Then I took a deep breath, hit Command-A (select all) then DELETE.

I will deal with the hole tonight, and my manuscript will be better than it was. How do I know that? Because I won't stop writing and deleting until it is better.

Some of the best writing you can do is with the delete key. It's not easy to ditch a scene you have worked hard to create, especially if there is nothing mechanically wrong with it. My rule of thumb is: if I even suspect a scene is a problem, fix it or delete it. There can be no middle ground.

Your good enough will never be your best, and your reader deserves your very best.


  1. Very well said, Carl. I had to do this in my last release. Thanks for sharing. Kind regards, Dean