Let It Suck Series: overwrite the scene, then pick up the scalpel

As we move beyond the blank screen and into our efforts as writers, we need to deal with scene work. The conventional wisdom is “enter the scene as late as possible and leave as soon as you can”, and I agree with that, eventually.

But not during a first draft.

When starting to write a scene, focus on the characters, the moment, and then leap in. Overwrite. Start with “Hello” or “Nice weather” if you have to, just get the scene written.

Yes, let it suck.

The main idea of the scene will be expressed in an overwritten draft, and getting the main idea down is our sacred duty.

After that, we just need to trim the fat.

Okay, first we may need to chop off huge chunks of fat like “Hello. Nice weather we’re having, isn’t it?” And here’s the key: that’s okay. It is early draft stuff, not what we are publishing. Once the scene is written in basic, and maybe flabby, form, we can highlight and cut, hold our finger down on the delete button, whatever it takes to get the scene into the form it needs to have before we share it with readers.

So, how do we do that?

Again, the answer is simple. We make it suck less. Going through the written scene asking ourselves, “is this necessary”, “can this be said better, more succinctly, more efficiently” and asking the most holy of questions, “does this serve the story” will get us through most of the cuts. 

Some may ask, “But what if I’m not sure about making a certain edit?” My answer comes from one of the ridiculous amount of books I’ve read about writing, and I am sorry to say I do not remember where exactly it comes from (if you do, please let me know and I will give the proper credit). Here’s the answer to editing worries: the extras file. 

Let’s say we are writing the soon-to-be-legendary “The Return of Jenkins” and need to do an edit we aren’t sure about. All we need to do is open a new document, let’s name it “Jenkins extras”, and then make the worrisome edit by cutting it from our story and pasting it into the “Jenkins extras” file. Now it is safe and can be retrieved if needed. No worries.

When I first read this, I had my doubts. I thought it would create a ton of extra work as I switched back and forth from the two files reducing myself to a puddle of insecurities. However, the text I read predicted this worry and promised that 99 percent of the material put in the extras file would remain there as I saw it was unnecessary to the story. This has proven to be overwhelmingly true.

So we are all set to overwrite without worry and edit without fear until we have lean and powerful scenes and learn to write more economically by overdoing it at first and cutting back to serve the story. Soon we find ourselves starting our scenes later and leaving them earlier, and still going back and trimming as needed, and we’re on the road to becoming editorial surgeons responsible for producing excellent written work.

Congratulations, doctor, it’s a classic.


Christopher Ryan is author of City of Woe, available on Kindle and Nook, and in print. For more info,click here.</em

About chrisryanwrites

I do my best to tell fast-paced stories with humor and heart. My fiction work is available on amazon.com. Here, I’ll write about the sources for those stories from what I read, watch, listen to, and observe to my experiences as a former award-winning journalist, high school teacher, actor, and producer.
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2 Responses to Let It Suck Series: overwrite the scene, then pick up the scalpel

  1. D.I. Ozier says:

    All of the writing teachers I’ve had have favored the “Hemingway approach”: write as normal, then cut, and cut, and cut again until you’re left with nothing but the bare minimum you need to get the story across. The end result is writing that is more minimalistic and streamlined. While I don’t go to such an extreme, I do have a tendency to overwrite and then cut things out later on.


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