Cutting unnecessary scenes from your novel

Every author at some point will write a scene that just doesn’t really need to be in their novel. The scene might be rehashing something the characters or reader already know. Or maybe it is connecting two scenes that could have been connected another way such as with a chapter break.

Every scene in your novel should be an integral to the story arc. If it isn’t, then it doesn’t belong in your story.

These unnecessary scenes can derail the plot or bore the readers.

So, as you are writing or revising your story, take a good look at each scene and make sure it belongs in your story.

Here are 11 types of scenes (or parts of scenes) that might be unnecessary.

  • A day in the life – Sometimes descriptions of a character’s daily routine can be interesting or provide important details into that character. Or it can simply be boring. There scenes often appear at the beginning of the novel as the author gets to know the character or isn’t sure how to start the story.
  • Backstory – You may have spent a lot of time developing the backstory for your character, but rarely is it necessary to share that backstory with the reader. And if you do share some backstory, it should be bits and pieces as needed instead of a long dump of information.
  • Hanging out – Conversations may break up action or scene descriptions but should only be used if it progresses the plot. No one wants to read the conversation of two characters just “hanging out” or exchange of pleasantries.
  • Description overload – Descriptions let the reader see the characters and the setting. But there is such a thing as too much description. Readers may tend to skip over this if they know nothing is happening. (I’m one of those readers.)
  • Information overload – Sometimes your character needs to update another with an event that your reader has already witnessed. There is no need to tell the event again unless perhaps in the rehashing (or internal dialogue) something will be revealed, or a connection will happen as the puzzle pieces fall into place. You can even create some conflict if the characters don’t agree on the fact or relevance.
  • Too much character thought – Extended character thoughts can become tiresome especially if they are doing nothing to drive the plot forward.
  • Repeated scenes/information – Repetitive scenes are an easy trap to fall into. But once you establish your character as a caring, dog-rescuing woman or top-notch safe cracker, you don’t need to go over it again in another (and another) scene.
  • Times-a-wasting – Characters need to take a break from the action. But you don’t want characters to sit around rehashing their tough day or just resting. Make sure their actions and dialogue move the plot forward.
  • Minor character relationships – Minor characters can give your main characters someone to interact with but you don’t want to spend too much on their life or history or romantic relationships unless it moves the plot forward. Heck, there are some minor characters that don’t even warrant a name.
  • Research dump – As an author, you may do a lot of research into something – your character’s career or hobby – so that you can paint their life realistically. But there is no reason to put in scene after scene with details of these jobs/hobbies. There is nothing wrong with using information to bring color and realism to a scene, but the scene should never be about the information unless it is actually driving the plot.
  • Transitions – Whenever you switch settings or jump time in your story, you’re usually going to have to account for what happened between Point A and Point B, if only to avoid disorienting readers. But this doesn’t mean you have to show your character driving to the next location. In fact, often you can easily change scenes with a chapter or section break with just a few words noting the time or location change.

Now, I know you probably recognize some of these scenes not only from your own work but that of other famous authors. I know a well-known romance author who often does the research dump.  And maybe these scenes worked in that story, but in most cases, these scenes are completely unnecessary, and readers wouldn’t miss them if they aren’t there.

As you write or edit your story, look at each scene. Imagine the story without it. Would the story still make sense? Would the plot still progress, and the character development still flow? If the answer to these questions is yes, then the scene is not needed. If there is only one or two important elements in the scene, then you might consider adding these elements to another scene and cutting out the parts that don’t advance the story.

Do this consistently and you will create a solid novel with no unnecessary scenes, and hopefully one that readers will want to keep reading rather than closing the book.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s