Saturday, February 12, 2011

How to Not Send Your Story Into a Cinderblock Wall- Making Every Scene Count

For the past few days where I live, the wind have been howling. Gusts blow strong enough to knock down our metal patio furniture and send our garbage cans halfway down the block. So when I heard a major crash outside, I figured it might be anything. It turns out it was our new firepit. The thing is HEAVY, and it went from one end of our yard to the other. The insert slammed into our cinderblock wall and folded in half like a taco. 
I stared at the damaged firepit, noticing the tree beside it, and how frantically the leaves blew in the mad wind. Some of the weaker leaves had blown off, but most of them clung to the branches and would survive the wind. I thought to myself, how strange that those frail leaves hang on, when something as large and strong as a firepit goes flying.
My husband thought that was a strange thought to have. Leaves? What about our new ruined firepit? And did the thirty day warranty cover smashed-into-cinderblock-wall damage?
So here comes the writerly part of the post... it occurred to me as I helped lug the firepit to the garage (did I mention it’s HEAVY?), that story ideas can either be like that firepit, or like leaves on a tree. Maybe it isn’t wise to treat a manuscript as one massive entity, but better to understand that each scene is its own part of the bigger picture. Like those leaves, the strongest ideas hang on and survive the crazy wind. And in the end, rather than a story that’s flattened like a taco, you’re left with one in which only the very best ideas flourish.
It can be hard to let go of our carefully crafted scenes though! But sometimes a beautifully written scene doesn’t do anything to move the story forward. How can we know for sure if what we’ve written is weighing our story down, and threatening to send the whole thing into a cinderblock wall? 
Here are some things that help me... (oh my-- another Diana List!!)
1. Send it to critique partners.
Do they mention that a particular scene doesn’t feel necessary? Or drags? Ask them to look at the story and help you make sure every scene matters.
2. Wait a week or so and look at the story again with fresh eyes.
With fresh eyes comes perspective, and distance from my work. I’m more willing to look at a scene and be willing to see it for what it’s worth to the story as a whole. The longer you wait before re-reading, the easier it will be to cut what isn't necessary.
3. Try removing the scene-- does the story still stand? 
If so, it might not be necessary to your story. Every scene should not only character-build, world-build, and add layers and dimension, it should build momentum and move the story forward to its next plot point. 
If we tighten up our manuscripts and make sure every scene counts, we’re more likely to end up with a page turner. And who knows? Those deleted scenes might end up as fun extras on our author websites someday ;)

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Diana Paz is a web content writer and aspiring YA author. She grew up on Miami Beach, moved to Los Angeles in high school, and went to college in San Diego. Basically, she's a beach bum, but she did graduate from California State University, San Marcos with a Bachelor's Degree in Liberal Arts. She loves old movies, epic fantasy, all kinds of music, and heading to the beach with a good book. Preferably sipping a caramel frappuccino. Find her at her blog: or on Twitter @dianapazwrites


  1. So, so true. And always hard. I've had to kill some darling. It always hurts. But it hurts so good :)

  2. Great tips, love!

    I hate killing darlings, but it must be done. Just part of the job. *sighs*

  3. Tina- YES! Especially when there's nothing really wrong with the scene. It just doesn't add anything more to the story.

    Nat- Thanks! :) And yes, just one job of many!!


  4. Great stuff, Di! Removing a scene often helps me tighten my stories ;o)

  5. Yes! I'm editing a story at the moment that evolved a lot as I wrote it (the joys of pantsing!) and a lot of the earlier scenes are no longer relevant. The story may have changed, but at it's core, it's still the same idea I initially fell in love with.

    Great post!

  6. Nice analogy. So sorry about the fire pit. The leaves staying is interesting. This is so important for writers to learn. Every scene counts and it needs to carry us a long to the next scene. I've read a some scenes where the writer just didn't get it-- it's like they don't know what to do with their characters-- they just have them meander through and have them doing things just to be doing things. Nice post Di.

  7. Great analogy. It is hard though, to give some of our babies up. Hope your fire pit can be saved.

  8. When I first started writing, I thought you had to account for nearly every minute of the character's time, or it would seem unrealistic. So wrong. Needless to say I've been removing huge chunks of writing that did nothing as far as telling the actual story. Great post.

  9. I've done it a couple of times, both of them against my own judgement, and both times the story was better off for it. It's unsettling to have a blindspot like that. :)

  10. If I have to cut something I remind myself I have the cut part somewhere still so while it's gone from the story I can still enjoy the scene or maybe offer it as a delete scene later (because I love special features and believe books need them too!)

  11. Erica- Thanks :) And you're right, especially when scenes slow the story down.

    Jade- LOL yes!!! The joys of pantsing indeed, I'm finding myself wishing I could somehow convert and become a plotter! I also cut quite a bit from the beginnings of my novels. Sometimes I think, but that scene is perfect! But doesn't matter if it's perfect, if it isn't really part of the story.

    Mary- Thanks for the fire pit sympathy. And yes, you're exactly right about each scene needing to carry us to the next. Each scene needs to reveal something and lead us toward our ending, otherwise our story is standing still.

    Liza- Thanks, it IS hard letting go of those scenes. As for the fire pit, sadly, the insert doesn't fit anymore. We tried straightening it but it's not going to happen. We're finding out if we can order a new one :/

    Gina- LOL that's so funny, and I have a critique partner who did that very thing with her first novel. Good job recognizing this and taking care of it :) I suppose it ~could~ work if your main characters had things happening constantly that were relevant to plot, though I imagine they'd become exhausted!

    DL- Only twice? Hee hee, I delete one of every five scenes I write, I think *cringe!*

    Patricia- I do the same thing! My "scraps" file for my wip is nearing twenty-thousand words now, but I'd rather know that those deleted scenes and chapters exist somewhere.

  12. I think the chunks I am cutting from my ms would punch holes in your cinderblock wall..... Just sayin'... ;o)

    And so bummed about the firepit!! Where are we going to roast marshmallows now??? *wails*

  13. Great post, Di. It took me along time to realize I needed to ditch the scene blocks weighing down my stories. Now, I cut and remove them like a surgeon repairing damage to a heart. When it's all done and that scene blockage is gone, everything runs smoother. :D

  14. Fresh eyes are so necessary -- you start seeing things that aren't there, or worse, not seeing the things that need to be changed.

  15. Thanks Janelle, yes I'm bummed about the firepit :( We only used it twice!!!!!!! You were there one of the times <3

    Brenda, thanks! I know exactly what you mean about cutting like a surgeon, nice analogy!

    Amanda, yup I couldn't agree more! Distancing myself is sometimes the only to get myself to see the big picture :)


  16. Great post and wonderful advice. Thanks!