In writing a screenplay, I created a bunch of scenes, with about twice as much material in total as I needed. So the job was to cut things down to size.

In so doing, I found that a number of scenes (and not all the ones I expected initially) seemed to fit together, while others didn't. Then the trick was to identify and kick out (in the terms put forth on "Sesame Street,") "One of these scenes is not like the others, one of these just doesn't belong, tell me which scene is not like the others before I finish my song.")

In so doing, I cut out scenes that I found interesting (on a standalone basis), but didn't fit the plot well, while upsizing other scenes that I initially found "annoying," because they did support the plot.For instance, there was initially a "throwaway" scene involving the company receptionist, until I made her the confidante of the heroine.

Is this a good thing to do, or should I try harder to find a way to retain interesting scenes?

3 Answers 3


It sounds like you're something of a discovery writer (aka pantser). You wrote lots and lots of material, and now you have to carve away everything which doesn't fit your plot. If you are a discovery writer rather than a planner, then removing all the parts which don't belong there is part of the process of writing your first draft.

Keep all the cool bits in a slush file. Maybe you can extract dialogue or ideas to reinsert later, either in this piece or a later one. Maybe you can just reread the individual scenes for your own enjoyment. Ultimately, every word in your finished product should serve your finished product — not be your entertainment.

Making the receptionist the confidante is an excellent example of making a boring-but-necessary character/scene into something important and plot-serving. (good job!) See if there's anything you can pull out of your cut scenes which can be similarly used to improve other boring-but-necessary bits.

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    One thing to do is to save some material and characters for the sequel. Like the receptionist.
    – Tom Au
    Jun 5, 2015 at 0:30

I have been told that the sentence you should cut out is the one you love the most. I have found this true of my own writing: a really interesting section just has to go because it doesn't fit within the whole.

Sometimes I have be able to re-cast an idea. Sometimes I have been able to use it in another story or play. Sometimes I have to just throw it away.

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    The term for this is "Kill your darlings." The idea is that the line/bit/scene/character you are most in love with is probably there because you love it, not because it serves the story. May 20, 2015 at 21:04
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    @LaurenIpsum I prefer to send my (unsuitable) darlings to an orphanage. At worst I can look back and see how unsuitable the genetic material was for my household, feeling grateful that I did not try to raise them to adulthood and increasing my fondness for my other children. (Or I am reminded of how poor a parent I am to my thoughts; killing does have some advantages.) Sometimes orphans can be adopted later after moving to a different house or produce grandchildren for adoption. (Yes, this image is also imperfect.)
    – user5232
    May 21, 2015 at 2:13
  • @PaulA.Clayton That's a good description for putting cut material into a slush file, as I described. I like the metaphor! :) May 21, 2015 at 10:30

+1 Lauren's answer, so I will only add to it: Part of writing is the analysis you are doing to eliminate scenes, and it sounds like you can be objective enough to make the hard choices. The slush pile is not a bad idea, either.

Here is one more tool that can be helpful: Zoom out, then zoom back in.

Try to figure out why you love those scenes that don't fit, in a somewhat generalized or abstract way. For example, you love the zinger Alex used on Brittany, or you liked the cold-blooded reaction Charlie had to his brother David's crying, or you loved the imagery you wrote about in the park, or you liked the overwhelming peace Elaine felt standing on the ledge right before she let herself fall.

Although the scene did not work in your story, I presume if you love it then something worked in the scene. Find out why you feel that way, in a kind of generalized way. For example, "I really like a good zinger", or whatever it is. That is the ZOOM OUT part of this formula.

The ZOOM IN is to apply one or more of those generalization to some other scene that does fit in the story. Not word for word, but try to fit a zinger in, try to fit that surprising and incongruous cold-blooded reaction in, try to fit in a more poetic description of a setting or feeling. Try to use what you discover to transform other scenes into scenes you love.

Kind of a heart transplant; so something of that scene that didn't make it help make another scene a little more healthy.

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