Every Scene Must Earn Its Keep

This concept really came home to me during the writing of the Redeeming Grace trilogy. I’d never attempted to write a novel with the end in mind. 

(Yes, I thought it was a novel at that point, not a trilogy. In fact, in the beginning I set out to write a short story. Shows what I know about keeping it short and sweet!)

Anyway, I knew (generally) what the endgame was, just not exactly how I was going to get there. Thus, I began setting up the various pieces like dominoes ready to be knocked down. I must admit to some glee in this process, much like a toddler building a very high tower with every intention of smashing it at the end.

But I digress. What I found happening quickly was an overwhelming amount of information that needed to be imparted and only a limited number of scenes to do it in (remember I thought it was a short!). Thus I became very conscious of a process I’d used in the past, just not quite as aggressively. 

The process is simply this: if I was going to write out a scene, it needed to be useful to the story in more than one way. The first purpose of every scene had to be to further the plot, preferably with some of a subplot being furthered in there, too. After that purpose, it also needed to do something else intentionally. Those other purposes are almost endless. Some of my examples might be: introduce or develop a character, introduce or develop a setting, illustrate an emotional pattern, reveal a key prop or concept, or foreshadow an important plot point. 

As you can see from the use of italics, the key concept here is intention. While you can rationalize almost any scene by saying something like, “it’s about my main character and their love interest, so it’s important to show their relationship!” That’s not what I mean. Remember, these extras are not the main point of the scene, they’re in addition to furthering the plot and/or subplot and—critically—that extra function is not fulfilled elsewhere in the story. This prevents lots of extra “filler” scenes that try to illustrate one small thing at a time, but rather rolls all of the extras into the meaty, plot-driving scenes so that the reader is getting all of those interesting bits while also moving at a good pace through the storytelling.

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