Which scenes should stay?

Have you ever been talking to a friend about your book–or been sitting in bed at night with insomnia–and suddenly you have the coolest idea for a scene in your book ever? Like, these are the scenes that get you really excited to write again, really revved up to get to work. So you immediately jot them down and start planning how you can squeeze them into your book.

Sometimes, these scenes are so fitting they end up creating the entire premise of the plotline your book will be based upon.

Other times, they can actually make your book a little bit worse, and your work a tad harder.

(And by “little bit” and “tad,” I mean they cause such severe plotline, continuity, and story problems they pretty much disrupt everything you’ve worked on.)

When you’re brainstorming awesome scenes toward the beginning of your book-building adventure, it’s easy to fit them in and build plotlines around them. When you’ve already got a well-established plotline, it gets a little tougher. Adding new scenes–especially the kind of scenes we usually come up with in those awesome brainstorms–gets really difficult when we’re trying to jam them into plotlines that are already complete and continuous. It disrupts the flow and suddenly we have a whole lot of work ahead of us rewriting and revising our outlines to make sure the new scene feels authentic and real in its new place.

Some of these scenes end up being a waste of time. Sure, they’re fun ideas, but they can actually damage the book if they aren’t integrated correctly. Other times, they’re essential and their addition can make or break a story. How do you know whether the new scene you’re smitten with will work?

Does it add crucial character or plot development?
If the amazing scene you just created has some major value in the character or plot development areas, it may be worth keeping in. You want to make sure every scene in your book plays a role in moving things forward. If the scene you just constructed can fill in some big gaps you haven’t figured out yet (or fix the shaky bridges you already had in place), you may want to work on how to integrate it into the story and replace the elements you need to replace.

Unfortunately, many of the scenes we come up with don’t have any significant plotline or character development value. They’re just super awesome. If you have a scene idea you absolutely love but you recognize that it wouldn’t really have a big impact on the story other than to mess things up and make you redo the plotline you already have in place, it may be something you keep on the back burner, or toss in the trash.

Does it fit into your current plotline without too much hassle?
If you don’t have a firmly established plotline, it’s fun to play around with these scene ideas and see what you come up with. If you do have a plotline established, it can be harder to fit in new ideas without totally screwing up what you’ve already got going on. If you have a really cool scene that wouldn’t cause much of a disruption being thrown into the book, play around with it and see what you come up with. If you have a scene that would drastically change the plot and make you rewrite major parts of the book or totally rehaul your outline, you need to think a bit more about it.

Of course, if this scene is really critical–if it’s something that will make your book significantly better than it already is, that entire plotline revamp may not just be something you could do, but something you absolutely should do.

Regardless, if you add a new scene in once you have an established plotline, make sure it fits.
Finally, the most important element here is this: you want to make sure your book feels like a complete piece, not a patchwork quilt of mish-mashed scenes and stories. If you add in a new scene, you need to look at your entire plotline as a whole and make sure it feels solid. There’s nothing worse than getting to that new scene in your book and realize it feels totally different than the rest of the novel. Continuity is important, and continuity doesn’t just apply to plotline elements. You want a continuous voice, a continuous mood, and a continuous story.


Categories: Tips and Tricks, Writing

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