(To enhance your reading experience: read the following ’graph really fast with lots of hand gestures and a infomercial voice)
Are you a reluctant editor? Do you save your darlings instead of murdering them? Do you have a hard time knowing which scenes burden your ‘script vs. enhance it? Then I have an exercise for you. (Nice voice.You could totally work for ShamWow!)
When I like the movie, I will often pop over to the Bonus Features and watch the deleted scenes. I think it’s interesting what the director cuts and why. Sometimes the director will offer commentary for tanking a scene, but most often, we’re given the scenes to watch and the reasoning is on us. I think we tend to agree with most of them and understand the time and budgeting constraints, but there are times when I disagree.
I watched a movie recently that had several scenes that I thought would’ve enhanced the movie—one scene in particular. I was kinda miffed for a minute, shaking my fist at the director for shortchanging me. I let it go, ’cause I’m a forgiver not a fighter, and started thinking about my work in progress. I know I need to shed a couple scenes, maybe even a whole chapter, but how do I choose? Will I make a crucial mistake? Hitting delete is a big deal, right?
So here’s my exercise. Go check out one of your favorite shows. I think it is important to find one that you like, one that you’re invested in—like your novel. Check out the deleted scenes and without hearing the director’s reasoning for deleting a certain scene, I want you to think about it, analyze why it didn’t make the cut.
Here’s my own run through of the movie Leap Year.
The show is about an uptight American (Anna) who plans her life away. Things seem to be rolling smoothly for Anna, especially when she suspects her boyfriend of five years is about to propose. Too bad he gives her earrings instead—lame. Honoring an Irish tradition that allows women to propose to her fella on Leap Day, Anna follows her boyfriend to Ireland to propose to him. But through a whole mess of mishaps, Anna meets snarky Declan and hires him to help her get to Dublin. It’s a romantic comedy so I’m sure you can guess what happens next.
The first scenes that were cut involved Anna’s father played by John Lithgow. At first, I thought what a shame because I like that actor. He ended up in only one tiny scene in the entire movie, but honestly, it was all we needed. We got the gist of who this guy was and his role in Anna's life through his five minutes on screen and her actions throughout. Too much would’ve been too much and I’m not sure I would’ve bought her character as much with those scenes.
The one scene that I actually would've liked to watch was one that showed Anna and her boyfriend after she and Declan parted ways. It cemented my belief that her boyfriend was not who she should be with. But as I got thinking, I already knew that. If I had written this scene in one of my novels, I know one of my critique partners would’ve marked me up for beating her over the head with details. And she would’ve been right. We want Anna to hurry back to Declan not bathe in the fact she’s with the wrong dude. We know already. Run Anna. Run to Declan.
Then, there were a couple scenes that I knew immediately why they were cut. They were repetitive and unnecessary. Just because something is cute or funny doesn’t mean it belongs in a certain work. I am a writer who likes to throw in the funny, even when I probably shouldn't. I also need to trust my reader more and R.U.E. (resist the urge to explain).
So what do you think? Are you a reluctant editor or can you tell when something isn’t working?