I advise the writers in the Workshop to always write toward a scene. It’s like the gas stations along a long highway as you drive a max-size SUV: you have to visit them often to get home.
But while you’re writing those scenes, you should consider if they all must be used. How do you do that? One writer in the Workshop offered pages from meeting to meeting that were completely rooted in scene. I struggled to engage with those scenes because I was always wondering, “But why would that character do that?” Making up those answers took me out of the dream state that we wish to induce in our readers.
Sequel and prequel provide that context for explanations. You need room in your writing for scenes, as well as the sequel and prequel material that explains and introduces the action. So eliminating scenes is an essential skill to make room.
You eliminate these wonderful but wandering bits of drama by asking these five questions.
- What’s the intention and purpose of this scene?
- How is it related to the scene immediately beforehand, and how does it connect with the scene afterward?
- What is the conflict inside this scene?
- What’s at stake for my protagonist, my hero, in the scene?
- How does this scene develop my plot further?
When you know the answers for each of your scenes, you might discover one that has no clear intention, or is missing conflict, or does not put anything at stake for your protagonist. These scenes either need to follow a purpose, show conflict, or reveal compelling stakes.
Or you can remove them. Revision can be ruthless at times. It’s a great practice to know these five things about any scene you’re about to write. In that way, you save yourself the pain of cutting out something you created with love — but lacking a clear mission.