Cut Useless Scenes

image by uglowp

My guest today is Sara L. Foust. Sara will tell us how to recognize scenes that need to be cut. More about her new book, Rarity Mountain, follows her post.

Sara: How do you know if you should include the scene you’ve just written or—gasp—cut it? First, let’s define what a scene is.

Definitions of a Scene

  • Google’s dictionary defines it as “a sequence of continuous action in a play, movie, opera, or book.” 
  • Dwight V. Swain, in Techniques of a Selling Writer, says a scene is a unit of conflict, an account of an effort to attain a goal despite opposition.” According to Swain, scenes are then followed by sequels. Sequels are more thoughtful reflections on the part of the character about what just happened in the scene.
  • I’ve come to think of scene a little differently, and it relates to the characters’ goals. 

Scenes Based on Character’s Goals

The overall, overarching story goal is the big picture goal that continues throughout the book. Each character’s action brings the character closer toward that goal. And within the story, there are stepping stones the characters must achieve (or be denied) in order to move the story forward.

image by skeeze

Example:  If my goal is to get a doughnut, I have steps I have to take in order to make it happen. I have to find my shoes, get my keys, drive to the store, and pay for my doughnut. My main goal is to get the doughnut, but the stepping stone goals (shoes, keys, wallet) must be achieved in order to succeed.

Before I write, I decide each character’s story goal. Then as I write, I make sure each scene has its own stepping stone goal too. So, for me, a single scene is the unit of action the character takes toward their individual scene goal. This includes the character’s reflection that occurs before, after, or during the action. Every time the character’s stepping-stone goal changes, I start a new scene. 

When to Cut a Scene

image by OpenClipart-Vectors

If I find my characters are lollygagging around not accomplishing much of anything, I know I’ve failed to include an appropriate scene goal and need to re-evaluate that scene.

In her writing craft book, Goal, Motivation, Conflict, Debra Dixon advises that each scene included in the final draft must have three reasons for being there. One of these reasons must be goal, motivation, or conflict. She elaborates that the other two reasons should show:

  • the character’s progress toward the story goal or setbacks they must overcome, 
  • pit the character against the antagonistic force, or 
  • give the character an experience that strengthens their resolve. 

When I cut a scene, it means I believe the story is actually stronger without the added fluff that particular scene gave. A scene needs to be cut if

  • it isn’t vital to the plot, even if it’s beautifully written and eloquent,  
  • the character doesn’t have a scene goal, 
  • the story can move forward just fine without the scene, or 
  • it’s boring. 

I always paste cut scenes into a separate file so if I change my mind they’re still available. Or if I just need to shed a few more tears before I completely say goodbye. It isn’t always easy to cut scenes. But I hope this helps shine a light on when they should be. 

If you or your editor cut a scene in your story, what was the reason?

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On the surface, SIMON FINCUFF and FERN STRONGBOW have nothing in common. Simon has served his sentence, but his past conviction still haunts him. Fern is a veterinarian and grew up on an off-the-grid homestead. The one thing they share? Each has a dark secret they would do almost anything to protect.

When their current careers are yanked away, they are left scrambling to pick up the pieces. A reality television show falls into their paths, offering a life-changing opportunity that tests their resolve and their faith. These two unlikely partners must battle to survive for thirty days in the untouched wilderness of Rarity Mountain with only a handful of survival items and a director who is out for drama, no matter the cost. With their lives and their carefully guarded skeletons on the line, they will discover how far they are willing to go to win the million-dollar prize for Survival Tennessee. 

Sara is a multi-published, award-winning author and homeschooling mother of five who writes surrounded by the beauty of East Tennessee. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from the University of Tennessee and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. She is the author of the Love, Hope, and Faith Series, which includes Callum’s Compass (2017), Camp Hope (2018), and Rarity Mountain (March 2019).  She also has a story, “Leap of Faith,” in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Step Outside Your Comfort Zoneand a novella, Of Walls (November 2018). Sara finds inspiration in her faith, her family, and the beauty of nature. When she isn’t writing, you can find her reading, camping, and spending time outdoors with her family. To learn more about her and her work or to become a part of her email friend’s group, please visit

Cramming in Characters: Overloads & Overwhelms Readers

image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images
image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images

A common first-chapter problem is introducing too many characters in the first scene. This can also be a problem for later scenes.

The Problem

  • image by OpenClipart-Vectors
    image by OpenClipart-Vectors
    Readers feel as if they’ve entered a gala with names thrown at them.
  • People can keep track of around three characters at a time.
  • Readers become confused and forget the many characters’ relationships to the protagonist.
  • Authors are less likely to round out people when too many are introduced at once.


  • Introduce necessary characters; don’t simply name them.
  • Use names that sound different from names of other people.
  • Determine which characters are crucial. If they don’t have a short or long-term purpose, eliminate them.
  • image by geralt
    image by geralt
    Consider whether two or more characters can be combined into one character.
  • Decide which critical characters can be introduced later. This removes first-chapter overload and starts the story faster.


  • Space introductions of essential characters throughout the scene and give each a memorable feature, action, or dialogue.
  • Allow only characters in the first chapter who have purposes that support the setup and keep the focus on the protagonist.
  • Consider this in a scene: At a party, we wouldn’t receive the full background of the twenty people we meet.
  • Introduce two or three new vital characters in scenes subsequent to the first—after readers have had a chance to grasp the story setup. Then, each character can have his own cameo through action, dialogue, and the protagonist’s point of view.

An Example

At Mom’s wake, Millie’s brother, Don, introduced his college roommate, Mark. Before Millie had a chance to say more than hello, Sally and Vera, her mother’s closest friends approached and threw their arms around her. Extricating herself from Mom’s chums, Millie caught a glance of Ron over by the shrimp platter. She needed to speak to him. Of course, Mom’s cousin Emma, had to come. Emily, her daughter, followed her everywhere.

image by Unsplash
image by Unsplash

An Evaluation:

  • Mark never enters the story again or has any purpose.
  • Don and Ron and Emma and Emily are essential, but their names are too similar. Possibly Emma and Emily could be detained and arrive the following day.
  • Although we’re given how each person is related to Millie, we’re given nothing memorable to keep these 8 people straight.
  • Mom’s chums could possibly be combined into one friend.

Better Rewrite:

Millie’s chest caved. Couldn’t Don have honored their mother and come to her wake sober? Millie turned her sisterly glare into a smile as Mom’s closest friend Vera approached with outstretched arms. Vera’s arm flab flapped as she waddled closer. Extricating herself from Vera’s bear hug, Millie caught sight of handsome Erik half hidden by the oriental screen. Was Erik avoiding their needed conversation?

Best Rewrite: Now have moments spaced throughout the scene in which these 4 characters hint at or show their long- and short-term purposes to the chapter and story.

Be deliberate in introducing many characters so readers aren’t overwhelmed or confused. Click to tweet.

What other suggestions do you have for introducing characters?

25 Questions Writing Experts Challenge You to Answer

“Good questions out rank easy answers.” — Paul Samuelson

by geralt

 I’ve studied the craft of writing for a while now. Sometimes all the questions experts say I need to ask myself gets overwhelming.

by geralt
by geralt

But the more I write, the less often I need to ask myself some of the questions. I finally know a grammar rule. Or I’ve gained a scene-enhancing habit. But some questions I’ll always need to ask myself.

For me, the most important question is: Have I consulted God, my Co-Author, today on what I am to write?

25 Common Questions From the Experts

  1. Who is my audience?
  2. Why would someone care about this story or character?
  3. Will my opening sentence or two hook my reader?
  4. What’s the event or incident that sends my character on her journey?
  5. What can my character do at the end that she couldn’t do in the beginning?
  6. Is my main character likeable?woman-241330_1280
  7. What are my characters’ goals, motivations, and conflicts for the story or for this scene?
  8. Are my secondary characters doing their jobs; are some unnecessary?
  9. Have I grounded my reader in the scene opening?
  10. Have I shown my character using her 5 senses?
  11. Is this sentence, paragraph, scene, chapter, or backstory necessary?
  12. Can I come up with a better phrase than this overused cliché?
  13. Is this the best word for what I’m saying?
  14. Is this sentence too complicated, verbose, or confusing?
  15. Have I ended my chapter with a hook to keep my reader reading?
  16. Does my character’s dialog sound fresh, seem consistent with his character, and move the story along?
  17. Have I cut out phrases that distance the reader from my character?
  18. Have I told the reader something I could have shown?
  19. Did this word exist during the time period of my story?
  20. Have I used too many words my readers will need to look up?
  21. Should I reconsider what my critique partner or editor suggested?
  22. Will this 15- or 25-word synopsis hook a potential editor or reader?
  23. Which plot points, sentences, or words should I cut out of my synopsis to meet the page requirement?
  24. Does my synopsis read enough like a story?
  25. Which editor should I employ to edit my manuscript?

Ask these questions as you write and up your chances of interesting an editor. Click to tweet.

by johnhain
by johnhain

Which of these questions do you need to ask yourself as you write?