Thursday, February 3, 2011

Some difficulties with cutting scenes

I think I'm progressing according to plan, as best as I can tell. I'm working with average number of pages in a situation where some sections need a little work and some need a lot. After three days -- three sessions -- I'm through about 11 of my note cards and at pg. 60 of the typescript, which is roughly 20% of the total. So 7%/day. 18 working days total if it continues like this. (Big if.) Which would round up to 4 work weeks instead of 6 as I outlined the other day. But I don't have enough good data to really count on accelerating my schedule. I can just hope.

The section I'm in right now makes it especially difficult to predict the process. There are about 4 scenes in a row that either got cut, rewritten, combined or moved someplace else. Some stuff must get cut because the material isn't relevant anymore. Some of it could stay possibly, and I have to decide if it helps. Whatever I do is going to affect the pacing. For example, if I cut a scene that comes between two big events, I might need that beat there for timing, in which case I need to write something to fill the space. Or it might be thought of as an opportunity to get in spread in some of the subplot material that might feel too rushed later on. Or it might be better without a break there and I should just keep things rolling.

Anyway, those decisions are going to bring my average down.

One of the difficult parts about cutting scenes is that there is almost always something in the scene that feels really important even if it's not the main point of the story. As I -- and the textbook I use -- discuss with my students, every line of dialogue and every detail should be doing more than one thing at once -- communicate the literal message and something else like building character or setting the scene or raising the stakes in some way. If you do that well, that makes it harder to cut something. If you cut a line of dialogue because you don't need the one thing it does, there's still the other thing it's doing. Now you need to find some other place to achieve that.

An example. I have a scene where my protagonist and her antagonist have a fight. When I drafted it, it's the first meeting between them that the reader witnesses in the present action. Because it was a draft, I didn't do a good job of making the scene serve the plot. It was really just an introduction of a character. I came up with a better way to introduce her and have them interact for the first time, earlier in the book, in a scene that also moves the plot forward. So this scene isn't necessary. Snip, snip. But it's not so easy. One, in the first draft version, that's where I put some exposition about the history of their relationship. So I have to find a way to weave that in somewhere. Two, and more complicated, I also had other characters in that scene getting in on the argument, too. That begins a process of bonding between those secondary characters and the protagonist that leads to their friendship later. If I cut this scene, the pacing of that emotional development and bonding is disrupted. It's not like exposition that I can just stuff in some place. It's woven into the tone of voice and how they talk with one another. The literal details of their dialogue isn't so important, but the other thing it is doing -- showing the kindling of their relationship at this moment -- is. If you lose that ineffable quality, you lose something in the rest of their interactions later on.

So it's difficult. I have to figure out how to hang on to what is best while I'm cutting out whole scenes.

This section, by the way, is the only one I think where there are whole scene that I know need to come out. The rest of the book is more or less laid out in the proper order after this point.

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