When to dump a scene completely

With ice cream, you don’t have to ask where it went!


It’s a high bar, wanting only scenes in a novel that are strong enough to leave a reader breathless.

Quietly or dramatically, a scene has to have a reason for being in the story, and that reason has to answer the question: Why is this scene PIVOTAL?

Yes. Every single time.

Scenes accomplish many things at once

The structure and skeleton of a scene offer a place to hang many hats: character development, plot, theme(s), setting, language, the ability to hold a reader’s attention, emotions… I could go on for a long time, or merely post some of my checklists for things which must be considered.

A scene has to be packed with meaning, symbolism, omens, backstory, forewarning, consequences, and costs.

It has to move the story from where it was to where it has to be, a stepping-stone across a great river.

Preferably subtly.

But the scene itself has to have a primary reason to be in the book, and it isn’t as a catch basin for a whole bunch of important little things the author thinks the reader needs to know.

I dropped a scene

I’ve done a lot of things between the complete rough draft and what will be the final complete draft that included rearranging material, moving things to a slightly better scene for them, altering the timelines enough to change the order, switching point of view to a different character, tweaking the goal.

I’ve considered, for each scene, how best to tell its part of the story.

I’ve combine a couple of shorter ones, split some long ones.

I’d have to go back over extensive lists, but I don’t think I’ve completely dumped one before.

It feels weird – but I’m happy I made the decision to ‘kill a darling.’

I was having trouble writing 34.5.

Since I have trouble writing every scene, this wasn’t anything new or startling. I have many ways of writing myself out of these problems, some suitable when it’s the writer who has a previously-unknown problem (the Journal gets a lot of these long explorations of why) and others which work to get around my physical limitations.

I have those checklists to allow me to explore MANY features of a scene in small enough chunks that I can focus on one thing at a time – by the time I’ve gone through all of those, I have the gathered material for that scene all in one place. Then I have systems to organize it. Then it gels. Then I write it.

I was even in a good mood and had had enough sleep.

The material wasn’t compelling as a whole.

There were specific bits that need to be in the book. There were some really nice bits. And there were all those answered questions and placeholder text bits, including some really decent dialogue.

Then I realized that writing this particular scene bored me

And that I wouldn’t be looking forward to rereading that scene when I reread the book, and would probably skip it.

Telling myself the Reader needed the information, presented in a nicely dramatized way, with bells, didn’t work.

And then I really, really looked at the nascent scene, and I admitted to myself that there were 2-3 necessary pieces, which is why I thought I should group them in this scene in the first place, but that it wasn’t enough to do a good job of surrounding them with a scene and let the reader absorb them painlessly.

It won’t surprise you that it was a villain scene – and I’ve given her plenty of room to express her opinions, follow her thoughts, listen to her justifications.

So I made the decision to cut a scene

And immediately knew it was the right decision.

I found a home for those necessary bits in the following scenes and an epigraph which wrote itself. There isn’t anything wrong with them.

And the chapter suddenly got livelier.

I dug into the next scene, and found it compelling, and found a way to make it heartbreaking.

We’re back on track.

This scene should be a doozy. As they should all be, if I had my ‘druthers.

I can always go back and put it in; somehow I don’t think it will be necessary. I’ll leave it up to my beta reader to notice.


I don’t think this is because I write one finished scene at a time; I’ll find out.

Does any of this ring a bell?


7 thoughts on “When to dump a scene completely

  1. acflory

    Ding! Ding! Ding! Commiserations and congratulations. 🙂 My beta ‘made’ me cut out an entire scene that I was quite fond of [Innerscape book 2] because, as he rightly pointed out, it wasn’t necessary…and it slowed the story down. When I looked at that scene again, I realised that when I first wrote it, the plot had been slightly different and the scene kind of made sense. Now it was only a ‘filler’. I still have that scene as an outtake coz it really wasn’t bad. But not bad is not good enough. 😦
    Onward and upward!


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      It wasn’t so much filler as detail – that’s a good idea to use as an outtake scene. From the rough draft. Hmmm.

      One clue should have been this: when I first started this story, I had six pov characters. Each of the main characters had a close friend who could comment on that character, give us a bit more detail.

      In the great reorganization of 2007, I cut the three extras out, went to only the three most affected by the story. Then I went through the cut scenes, and kept very little. I figured the reader was smart enough – and the story long enough – that I didn’t need to fill in the background that much.

      I agree with you: not bad is for beginners. We have to be stronger than that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. acflory

        I spent half of yesterday’s brain time re-arranging some of the chapters and scenes of my WIP. Why? Because the first or second or sometimes third draft doesn’t get it right. Good for then, not good for now. Definitely not good enough for some future reader, because, isn’t that what we all want? To write stories good enough to be read, and enjoyed, in the future?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. acflory

          I know. 😦
          I suspect a lot of writers are too young to feel the pressure of mortality. I don’t believe in an afterlife, but I do believe in being ‘remembered’. To me, Shakespeare is immortal because he’s still remembered, read, enjoyed.
          That’s what I want. Would be nice to get it while I’m still alive and kicking, but posthumous is okay. Now I just have to wrangle the damned words!

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Age and chronic illness, in combination, change your focus.

          I’m still hanging in here, hoping some of the research money being thrown at long-covid will create knowledge that will benefit me and those like me.

          The age we’re stuck with, but the disease going would give me a new lease on this life.

          Liked by 2 people

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