Killing Scenes

It’s far too easy for writers to¬†fall in love with their own words. You can become so besotted with a scene that youre determined to wedge it into the story somewhere.

But some scenes deserve to die.

Some scenes do nothing but provide a forum for a bit of humor or a telling detail that actually doesn’t serve the story. Some are just a vehicle for a brilliant image or a clever scrap of dialogue, but they don’t forward the story, they don’t develop the characters, and they don’t carry your reader forward.

They just don’t work.

But you wrote them, so how would you know? Writing is subjective, and the person least qualified to judge it is the writer. You need an objective method to play judge and jury, so you can try, convict and condemn the scenes that take up your readers’ time without delivering anything of value.

One method is the goal-motivation-conflict test. What does the character want, why does she want it, and what is keeping her from getting it? And, more important, how necessary is that goal to her success or survival? A scene needs to have a sense of urgency to keep the reader turning pages.

Beyond that, every scene should change two things: the character, and the story. Something internal, and something external. Go through the book, scene by scene, and ask yourself what changes in each one. Nothing?

Kill it.

Of course, you could let someone else do it. Chances are you have a critique group, or, if you’re lucky, an agent or editor standing by with a red pen at the ready. But have mercy on these people. They’re a writer’s most valuable resource.

Do your own dirty work, and you won’t be wasting their time, either.