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.

Avoiding distractions to stay on task

Staying on task is hard. Really, it is.

There are countless distractions whether you are at work or at home. There are ringing phones, text messages, social media, news, co-workers or kids. It can feel like you never get any uninterrupted time. (I felt that way today as I wrote this blog. Numerous times the kids came in to chat.)

Often to feel like I am getting stuff crossed off my to do list (whether it be writing, PTA or home tasks), I try working on several things at once (usually 10 minutes of this, 10 minutes of that). And while it might feel like you are being productive since you are multi-tasking, it often is a false sense of accomplishment. You are busy with multiple tasks, but you are not completing any of them. (So true.)

Here are some tips to help you avoid distractions and stay on task:

  • Listen to Music – This can help isolate you from surrounding interruptions while also getting your brain moving and thoughts flowing.
  • Isolate yourself – If people (say my kids for example) keep interrupting you, then avoid them. Go somewhere with less interruptions – the conference room at work or the home office or bedroom if you are working at home. (At home, a sign on the door might slow some of those interruptions.) Heck, you can even go elsewhere to work. Go to a café or the library to work.
  • Remove distractions – That’s right. Put away the phone or at least turn off the ringer and notifications. (People will survive if they can’t reach you for a bit.) Close your email. It will be there later when you have time to check it. Disconnect the internet if that will keep you from getting distracted by Facebook, YouTube or news sites. You are always just one click away from wasting 30 minutes on the internet.
  • Let others know you are busy – Schedule some time on your calendar so that others don’t or can’t schedule something with you. Let kids or coworkers know you will be busy and are not to be interrupted.
  • Stay with one task – Be disciplined enough not to start another task until the one at hand is done. If another task enters your mind, don’t jump to do it. Write it down on your to-do list. Sticking with one task takes practice and discipline.

These tips are designed to help you stay on task. Whether you can execute them and do that remains to be seen. I know for myself that I am often distracted by the kids or YouTube videos or trying to do several things in one stretch of time. I know that at the end of the day I often feel like not enough was done. I do find that setting a timer sometimes help me stay with that one task for a set amount of time. Now whether I finish it in that time depends on the task. Hopefully, you will have the willpower to implement these things and become more productive.

As for me…well, I am working on it. (She says as types while chatting with her daughter and watching a movie on TV.)

Using the S.M.A.R.T. strategy to set your writing goals

Last week, I wrote about how long it takes to write a novel. (Short answer, it is different for everyone and for the different lengths of stories.) But something that helps many writers stay on task and get that novel written is to set goals. And not just any goal but realistic ones.

Now before I start in on writing goals, just know that this isn’t for everyone. Some people write sporadically and goals – ones they are likely won’t be able to meet – are only going to lead to frustration. And sometimes goals and the pressure to make them can stifle your creativity when the words just aren’t flowing.

But for others, setting writing goals helps keep you motivated and on track. For these goals to be helpful, they need to be clear and realistic. You can’t expect to write 10,000 words in a day when you only have an hour a day to write.

Looking online, many websites say your goal needs to be S.M.A.R.T. – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time Bound.

Specific – You can’t just set a goal of writing a novel. This is too vague. You can easily become overwhelmed (and unmotivated) with this type of goal. Instead, make it a goal of writing an hour a day or a specific word or page count.

Measurable – You need to know when you have accomplished your goal and can cross it off your list. This is where the above-mentioned word or page count come into play. And since your results are measurable, you can easily adjust them. Say you set a goal of writing so many words or pages a day, but you’re not always meeting this goal, you can either work harder or adjust your goal to something more realistic.

Attainable – You need to set a realistic goal. If you set a goal of writing 20 pages a day but you work and are raising a family, chances are you won’t be able to maintain this goal. There is nothing wrong with adjusting your goal if you find yourself unable to meet your goal. There is no point in setting a goal that isn’t achievable. All that will do is discourage you even more.

To set a realistic goal, be honest with how much time you can devote to writing. Then look at the time and decide how many words or pages you can realistically get done. Don’t want a daily goal since your productivity fluctuates? Try a weekly goal. Take what you think you can do in a day and times that by how many days a week you plan to write. (Hint – it probably shouldn’t be seven days a week as a day away from writing can be a good thing.)

Relevant – Your goal needs to related to your overall goal. So, your goal to write so many pages is just a step in writing your novel and part of your overall goal of becoming a published author. Thus meeting your goal of 1,500 words a day, five days a week will ultimately help you complete your novel and move onto your next goal (editing and publishing).

Time-Bound – This simply means your goal needs to be done in a certain time period. This helps you to schedule it in your day/week.

All of these criteria can help you develop realistic goals that will help you complete your novel. To keep on task, it is helpful to review and adjust your goals on a regular basis. The point is not to feel bad if you are not meeting your goals but to make them attainable.

Looking at how long it takes to write a novel

Last week I wrote about the ups and downs of writing. Sometimes I am cranking out the words and other days I am struggling to find time to write.

As I read about the experiences of other authors, I hear about authors who write thousands of words a day. And while it is good to have a writing goal and to be actually writing, is it worth it to write a lot of not so good words or should you strive to write quality writing? Do you want to cut a lot of what you write?

Well, I guess that is right, but I do hate deleting a lot of what I write so my writing is slower as I strive for quality passages verses a high number of words. And of course, I do edit as I write so that takes longer to write. But I am getting off the topic here.

Today, I wanted to talk about how long it takes to write a novel, and how you should take it with a grain of salt when other authors say they crank out books every month, every other month or how ever often they say they write a book.

If you ask 10 authors how long it takes to write a book, you will probably get 10 different answers. For some it takes 10 years or 4 years or 1 year or 6 months. It can take a long time to write a novel if you have research, complex plots or if you spend a lot of time fine-tuning sentences. How often you write and for how long, your level of writing experience, the genre, and length of novel also play into how long it takes to write a novel.

This is that grain of salt thing I mentioned when listening to how long it takes authors to write a book. Here is a list of books and how long they took to write. Note the word count, some of these books are short. I could certainly crank out more books if my stories were 28,000 or even 53,000 words.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess – 3 weeks (67,000 words)

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – 6 weeks (28,000 words)

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer – 3 months (112,000 words)

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – 9 months (53,000 words)

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling – 1 ½ years (19,500 words)

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien – 2 years (95,000 words)

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – 2 ½ years (99,000 words)

A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin – 5 years (293,000 words)

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling – 6 ½ years (77,000 words)

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – 10 years (418,000 words)

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo – 12 years (655,000 words)

The argument for writing books faster is that your readership grows exponentially with each book. Fans of your first book will often read your second one. And readers who find you later on, if they like your writing, will go back and read your other books. If you take too long to publish your next book, there is a chance readers will forget about you. (Or so the thinking goes among some authors.)

But cranking out sub-standard books is also not a good thing which sometimes happens when authors rush their stories.

So, when aspiring or newbie authors ask how long it takes to write a novel, it really takes as long as you want or need it to take. And that is different for all of us.

The ups and downs of writing

If you are a follower of my blog, you undoubtedly noticed that for most of May, I have not posted my weekly writing/publishing post. I really was just too busy. And for once, I wasn’t just busy with non-writing stuff (PTA, work, kids’ end of the school events – though I did have these things too), I was actually writing on my current work-in-progress, which I had been neglecting.

But I don’t want to get away from writing on my blog so here I am. For today’s topic I thought I would talk about the ups and downs of writing.

Now, I don’t know how it is for you, but I am not dedicated enough to be writing every day though I know some authors have that down. I find myself going through periods where I am writing daily and progressing with my story and then there are periods where I barely have time to breath let alone write.

And when I am not writing, I begin to worry about being unproductive. I worry about how long it is taking me to write this book. I think about all those stories about authors who can crank out four books a year or even the crazy ones that do more than that. (Next week, I will go over how this “I write X book a month/year” can be deceiving.)

Even the most diligent of us who set goals are going to miss some of them. We’re human. It happens.

If you are a steady, methodical writer who sits down and cranks out words daily, then this up and down writing pattern isn’t something you know or worry about. (And I am jealous.)

But, if you’re like me, some days I write like crazy and other times I struggle. Now sometimes that struggle is just figuring out what to write and sometimes it is a work-related or personal event that impacts my writing productivity.

Of course, rather than be obsessed with the ups and downs of writing, I need to remember that we all write at our own pace. What works for me will be different than what works for another author. I need to not worry about how fast others turn out books but continue to focus on my writing. But, I also need to make time for my blog…and marketing…and…

May is Short Story Month – #excerpt of THE SEARCH

It is a rainy May here in Texas. May is also Short Story Month so if you have to stay inside, check out some short stories this month.

Short story month began back in 2007 to showcase books that could be read in one sitting. Now there isn’t an official number of words that constitutes a short story but the general consensus online is that a short story is between 1000 and 7,500 words.

Hmmm…that makes my “short” story, The Search, which is a prequel to my The Elemental trilogy, not technically a “short” story. However, I call it a short story because 12,000 words is much less than my full length novels that have 80,000+ words.

So in honor of Short Story Month, let me share with you an excerpt of my “short” story The Search.

You can get The Search for FREE from Barnes & Noble, the Kobo StoreiTunes or Smashwords where it is available in all e-book formats.

You can also purchase it for 99 cents on Amazon.

The Search: Book Description

For over a thousand years, telepathic cats known as STACs have faithfully searched for those with power over the elements looking for the one foretold to save the Land. None have questioned their duty to fulfill this ancient task.

But when Tosh’s latest charge is murdered because of his Elemental powers, Tosh considers abandoning The Search. Will a glimpse of the future destruction be enough to change his mind?

The Search: Excerpt

The horse’s hooves thundered across the ground. Tosh dug his claws into the saddle as his back legs threatened to slip off. A firm hand pressed against his side, pulling him closer toward the young man behind him. Feeling safer, Tosh leaned out to see the terrain up ahead. He blinked his eyes in disbelief at what he saw.

You can’t be serious.

“We can make it,” Nolan said, speaking directly into his mind.

Tosh looked up at him, but Nolan wasn’t looking at the ravine. He was looking over his shoulder at the three men on horseback chasing them. Tosh caught a glimpse of a hefty man with a red beard leaning forward, urging his mount to run faster. He clearly was gaining on them. Tosh looked at the ravine before them.

It is too far for her to jump.

“Ah come on, Tosh. She’ll do just fine.”

Tosh sighed. Nolan rarely listened to any advice he gave him unless it coincided with something that Nolan already wanted to do. Knowing there was no way and no time to change the young man’s mind, Tosh curled up against him. He dug his claws deeper into the saddle and wrapped his tail protectively around his body. He felt Nolan lean forward as the mare’s hooves left the ground. He closed his eyes, counting the seconds until he felt the mare land on the other side. She stumbled slightly, and Tosh opened his eyes to see a small section of ground at the ravine’s edge fall.

Nolan reined in the mare and turned to look back at the ravine and the approaching men. Tosh glanced up and saw the look of concentration on his face. Suddenly, the ground shook. The edge of the ravine crumbled. Rocks and dirt fell until the gorge was three feet wider than it had been moments earlier. The men pursuing them pulled their mounts to a halt at the edge of the gorge.

“You won’t get away from us,” the redhead yelled.

Nolan raised his hand and waved before urging the mare toward the forest. Tosh glanced back to see the men swearing as they eyed the ravine which now was clearly too wide for them to jump. As they entered the forest, Nolan slowed the mare to a walk.

“That was amazing,” he said with a chuckle.

You’re lucky the mare made it.

“Oh, Tosh, you worry too much,” he said ruffling Tosh’s fur.

Tosh turned to glare at him and then proceeded to lick the fur back into the correct direction. We wouldn’t have had to find out if she could make it if you just learn to control your temper.  

Tosh didn’t really expect Nolan ever to learn to do that. He had been trying to drill that lesso

“I know. I know. And stop using my Elemental power in front of others,” Nolan said with a sigh. “Why shouldn’t I use it?”

I have never said you shouldn’t use it. You just need to decide when it is wise to do so.

“So using it to defend myself isn’t wise?”n into him since he was a headstrong teenager but to no avail.

Defending yourself is one thing. Picking fights is another. Tosh sighed. I guess this means we are moving again.

“But first we have to go pick up our belongings.”

They circled back toward the town. When they entered it an hour later, Tosh kept an eye out for the men, but the streets were nearly empty. No one paid them any attention as Nolan stopped before the boarding house where they had been staying. Tosh remained on the mare as Nolan ran upstairs to gather their things. Within minutes, the young man had returned, and they were on their way out of town.


Z is for Zealous #AtoZChallenge

For this year’s A to Z Challenge, I have chosen the theme of character flaws – something all characters need.

Here we are at the end of the A to Z Challenge. And today, we have Z is for Zealous. This character is passionate and often overly enthusiastic. They may be blindly devoted and spend a ridiculous amount of time on whatever is the subject of their fanaticism even if it is illogical.

This character makes an ideal antagonist because he or she focuses on the object of their zeal to such an extent that nothing and no one is safe if they provide a challenge to them.

The zealous character is earnest and uncompromising. He cares for one thing, lives for one thing.

Previous A to Z Challenge Posts

A is for Argumentative 

B is for Bossy

C is for Callous 

D is for Disorganized

E is for Envious

F is for Frivolous 

G is for Gullible 

H is for Humorless 

I is for Impulsive

J is for Judgmental

K is for Klutz 

L is for Lazy

M is for Materialistic

N is for Needy

O is for Obsessive

P is for Paranoid 

Q is for Questioning

R is for Reckless 

S is for Stubborn 

T is for Temperamental 

U is for Uncouth 

V is for Vindictive 

W is for Worrywart 

X is for Xenophobic 

Y is for Yelling