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SCENE IT! Is it a keeper?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Let’s face it—not every scene we write is going to end up in the finished draft of our books. And the pieces that need to be axed first are usually vignettes.
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Scenes vs. Vignettes

It’s important to be able to recognize when a scene is just a free-floating vignette that doesn’t serve your narrative. There are multiple definitions for a vignette. In Make a Scene, Jordan Rosenfeld defines it as “a small, graceful literary sketch. . .which does not necessarily relate to the plot, and is therefore extraneous.”

Vignettes may be your favorite scenes in your story—but if they don’t add to the overall plot of the novel, they have no place in it. Ask these questions to determine if it’s a scene or a vignette:

  • Does the scene have a beginning, middle, and end? Is there a character with a scene intention (related to the overall plot) that meets with conflict and an ending that thwarts that intention?
  • Does the scene introduce new plot information?
  • Does the scene relate to the overall plot situation?
  • Does the scene build upon the last scene—is it a sequel, dealing with the fallout/consequences of the previous disaster?
  • Does the scene involve, inform, or affect the viewpoint character(s)?
  • Does the scene more the story forward in time?

If the answer is yes to each of those, then it’s a scene, not a vignette. If you answer no to any of those, you most likely have a vignette which needs to be fleshed out to a proper scene (until it answers yes to each question) or it needs to be removed.

A scene adds to the latticework that forms the overall plot of the story. A vignette leaves the reader scratching her head and wondering why she just had to read something that didn’t move the story forward at all.

Vignettes are selfish writing—they’re for the author’s pleasure, not the reader’s.

The most important question you can ask (of any scene, not just vignettes) is: If I cut this scene from my manuscript, will the plot still make sense? If the answer is yes, you have a scene you can cut.
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Let’s Watch the Deleted Scenes

Do you watch the deleted scenes on the DVDs of movies/TV shows? Do they add to your understanding of the movie?

How many of you went to see The Hobbit in theaters? How many of you found yourselves thinking that Peter Jackson could have done a MUCH better job editing out unnecessary scenes that didn’t advance the plot of the story?

There’s a reason why much of the information on the background and tangential events of what happened before and after the story of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were relegated to the Appendices by J. R. R. Tolkien. Even he—who did include a bunch of stuff (in the LOTR books, especially) which I found to be unnecessary—knew when certain scenes didn’t directly influence the plot or move it forward. In his passion for all-things Middle Earth, Peter Jackson seems to have lost sight of this, adding much of that information back into the films which doesn’t need to be there.

Conversely, when I first saw the original LOTR trilogy in the theater, I loved it so much, I wanted to know more about the characters and the events—so I gladly purchased the extended edition DVDs and purposely watched first all of the additional scenes. Even still, Jackson didn’t add everything he’d filmed. Just those scenes that added to the tapestry of the characters, the world, or the story. But had I not initially fallen in love with the tighter, more straight-forward storytelling of the pared-down, tightly edited theatrical release movies, I might have gotten bored with the extended editions’ extra bulk—just as I did with The Hobbit’s.
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Is it a keeper?

The time to worry about whether or not a scene works within the structure of your story is not when you are writing the first draft. You don’t need to be worried about that during the creative process. You just need to write down everything that comes to mind in order to get your complete story on the page.

The time to worry about whether or not a scene works within the structure of your story is during the revision process. Once you have your full story written down, with your ending complete, then you know whether or not a scene actually moves the plot forward and supports/sets up that ending. Then, you’ll be able to answer the questions above and determine if it’s a scene or a vignette. Sure, vignettes are fun and they’re a great way for you, the author, to learn more about your characters or your setting. But, frankly, your readers won’t care, not until you’ve given them something to care about—which is a tightly written story with a well-paced plot.

Afterward, if you want to share your deleted scenes (because just like a filmmaker, you should never truly “delete” them but set them aside, save them in a separate folder), on your blog or release an “extended edition” of your book for those who are true fans, you can do so.

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Works cited:

Rosenfeld, Jordan E. Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest, 2008.

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