3 Types of Scenes to Cut from Your WIP

Posted May 23, 2014 by Briana in Advice, Editing, revising, scenes, write, writers, Writing, writing tips / 10 Comments

Upturned Silhouetted Profile Against a Blue-Green Background

It never ceases to amaze me how much bad writing there is in the world.

Truly, when you think about it, you can most likely remember more poorly-written books you’ve read than well-written ones. Why is that? Bad prose tends to stick in our memory. Think of it as a kind of gruesome car accident–you know you shouldn’t watch it, but you can’t look away.

Bad writing is almost predictable in its awfulness. That is, there are several contributing factors to a poorly-written piece that can be seen almost across the board.

If you want to avoid bad writing, you need to avoid the factors that contribute to bad writing. One way you can do that is by cutting these scenes.

1. Mirror Scenes

Nothing in prose irritates me more than getting character description from a reflection. Most of the time, these scenes consist of a character peering into the nearest reflective surface–whether it be a mirror or a lake or even a spoon–and commenting on his or her appearance as though noticing it for the first time. How many times do you look in the mirror and look yourself over from head to toe, noting your “caramel-colored eyes” or “luscious red curls.” Probably never. Honestly,there are better ways to reveal a character’s appearance.

2. Dream Sequences

Oh, goodness. Dream sequences, for me, are right up there with mirror scenes. The only difference is that, unlike a mirror scene, a well-written dream sequence can serve the plot. For example, in Veronica Roth’s Divergent, dreams form an integral part of the story. Unfortunately not all dream sequences are created equal. I’ve seen authors slip in dreams seemingly only for the sake of making word count. Don’t do that. If you’re going to use a dream, make sure it’s relevant to what’s going in in your story.

3. Commonplace Exchanges

I once read a novel in which a whole chapter was spent chronicling a trip to the grocery store. I wish I were kidding. If your scene or chapter doesn’t reveal character or move the plot along, you’re better off without it. No one wants to watch your protagonist picking out produce. We do that enough in our own lives as it is.

These are just three types of scenes that can be removed for the sake of strengthening your piece. I know there are others, but these cover most of the big-picture problems.

What types of scenes do you cut from your work? Do you agree with these three?

P.S. The Art (Not Science) of Chapter BreaksAvoiding Genre Fixation, From Daily Writing Tips: 34 Writing Tips That Will Make You a Better Writer, and Said Isn’t Dead.

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10 responses to “3 Types of Scenes to Cut from Your WIP

  1. I guess it depends on the story for me. The mirror thing, I can understand why it’s used. It’s a way to get across the POV character’s description in a realistic way. But it can be overused 😀

    Dream sequences, I don’t mind so much, they help to show a character’s state of mind as well as moving story along. But again, if there is more than one in a book, I tend to get a bit urgh about it!

    Everyone writes differently, and sometimes these scenes can work really well. Other times, they can stick out like a sore thumb 😀

    Great post, and something I will have to remember for future writing!

  2. I would never write about a character going to the grocery store. That seems absurd.
    As far as dream sequences, there is a time and place for them. I am actually working on something right now that includes dreams, but it’s a major part of the story because it’s sort of a fantasy-sci-fi-thriller.
    Mirror scenes are annoying. I can recall only ever writing one…but it was sort of necessary for what I had to say about the character description.

  3. Thank you so much! Like I said, I can understand how mirror scenes and dream sequences might be useful. It’s when they’re unnecessary that they become a problem.

  4. Sometimes there’s no getting around mirror scenes. I just get exasperated when I read them and they’re not in any way fresh or unique. Thanks for commenting!

  5. I know what you mean, I read a book once where the main character looked in a mirror every chapter to describe appearance, that was a tad on the over done side! 😀

  6. I am currently reading Sarah Dunant’s In the Company of the Courtesan and there is an amazing illustration of how a writer can use a recurring dream (in this case, a nightmare) to paint a picture of the subject’s state at the time. Also, there is a clever use of flashback and memories from the same subjects past which emerge from the details of the same nightmare. I literally dread the ending of good reads and therefore know that I will have a hard time coming to terms with the end of this fantastic book.

    My main issue with some of the writers I read is “fake conversation”. I’m not sure how best to describe it, but it is one of those dialogues that you can tell were thrown after a detailed description of a scene or a character (often one newly introduced to the story) so that there is some relief from all the detailed description or the general prose. If I read a conversation that could not have possibly happened in real life, I tend to feel rather cheated. Woe to the writer should this happen a few chapters into the book.
    I also dislike cliche lines – such as the example you gave of “luscious red curls”. Sarah Dunant does a fantastic job of description – it really is original and almost magical but simple at the same time (no fancy French words, thankfully!)