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Scenes That Can’t Be Cut (a.k.a., Finding a Scene’s Purpose) from THE FIRE IN FICTION by Donald Maass

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Excerpt from Chapter 3, “Scenes That Can’t Be Cut,” in The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass


I suspect many sagging middle scenes slump the way they do not because of bad planning or bad luck but because their purpose hasn’t yet emerged. Authors, as they plow through the middle portion of their manuscripts, tend ot write what they think ought to come next; furthermore, they write it in the first way that occurs to them to do so. In successive drafts such scenes tend to stay in place, little altered. Unsure what to do, an author may leave a scene in place because…well, just because. …

[I]t’s first helpful to realize that every scene set down by an author usually has a reason to be. The author may not grasp the reason yet, but the impulse to portray this particular moment, this particular meeting, this particular action, springs from the deep well of dreams from which stories are drawn.

This scene has a point. The task is to draw that purpose out? How? Changing the words on the page won’t work. We authors are wedded to our words. Our instinct is to preserve them. So it’s the whole scene that needs to be explored again. Scene revision is, to me, less a matter of expression and more a way of seeing.

To re-envision a scene, look away from the page and look toward what is really happening. What change takes place? When does that change occur (at what precise second in the scene)? In that moment, how is the point-of-view character changed? The point of those questions is to find the scenes’ turning points (note the plural).

Having identified the turning points, you will find focusing the scene becomes easier. Everything else on the page either contributes to, or leads readers away from, those changes. All the extra stuff—the nifty scene setting, clever character bits, artful lead-ins and lead-outs—are now expendable, or perhaps they are tools to help selectively enact the scene’s main purpose.
(quoted from pages 54–55)

About the book:
Discover the Difference Between a So-So Manuscript and a Novel Readers Can’t Forget

We’ve all read them: novels by our favorite authors that disappoint. Uninspired and lifeless, we wonder what happened. Was the author in a hurry? Did she have a bad year? Has he lost interest altogether?

Something similar is true of a great many unpublished manuscripts. They are okay stories that never take flight. They don’t grip the imagination, let alone the heart. They merit only a shrug and a polite dismissal by agents and editors.

It doesn’t have to be that way. In The Fire in Fiction, successful literary agent and author Donald Maass shows you not only how to infuse your story with deep conviction and fiery passion, but how to do it over and over again.

Work Cited:

Maass, Donald. “Scenes That Can’t Be Cut” in The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose, and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 2009. 54–80. Print.

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