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How to write Part 6: The Cutting Room Floor

Updated: Jan 26

The time has come to kill your precious work. You have spent this time generating ideas for a world you want to write in. You have created characters who embody these scenes, and plot threads between all these characters. Then you figured out which theme you want your world to embody. Now the time has come to remove those things which do not fit.

Cutting from your novel, part 1

There are multiple reasons scenes, characters and plots may not make it into the final piece, and all of them should be considered here and now. Let’s take them one at a time:


There is no hard rule about how many characters a book can have. In part because there is no rule about how big a book is. Books from different genres are different sizes on average, but no matter how much we love some of our people and creations, they don’t all get to play in one book at the same time.

-          Is this character central to the story? The protagonist, antagonist or a direct secondary character to them? If yes, they usually get to stay.

-          Is the character only interesting, but does not add to the core theme I want to convey and the main plot I want to drive? They might get pushed to the side.

-          Can I get away with showing them less, perhaps only mentioning them in a brief paragraph to give the world an incompletely seen but implied depth?


When a book has too many plots it becomes onerous to be sure we have closed them all up, and to be sure we have woven them into one another. If we spend too long away from one story, readers can forget what we were doing, stop caring, or just find the length between the different tales like reading two books at once. Like characters, there are no rules about the total number of plots, but here are some useful questions to start with:

-          Is this the main plot? If yes, keep it.

-          Is this a plot that directly impacts story arcs of my main characters? If it is only around tertiary characters, or even only around secondary players, it might be on the block.

-          Does this plot have a redundancy with another plot? For example, two romance subplots might be confusing, or even too much.

-          Does this plot segue or directly influence the main plot thread, and therefore they add to one another? If not, you may want to consider dropping it.


Not every piece of a book must contribute unequivocally to the theme. Some pieces can just be fun and world building. You can even have two themes, but as recommended, until you get experienced at this, contemplate keeping just one theme. At a minimum the following questions must be considered.

-          Does the character, plot, scene or event contradict the theme/s you want to convey? If it does, they must go. You can’t send mixed messages. Note, this is different than having characters who are in opposition to the theme to be later thwarted, THAT is fine, we are saying a thematic resolution thread in a book which is exactly the opposite to what you are trying to say can be very confusing and jarring.

-          If the piece on the chopping block is from a secondary theme, is that theme closely related to the first theme? Do they compliment one another?


Scenes are the backbone of a story. We move from scene to scene to carry the entire text along. But many things will happen that the reader doesn’t get the details on, and happen off screen so to speak. Be careful you do not move the most important, vital moments of characters off screen. Readers will feel like they are missing out! At the same time, if a scene doesn’t serve the main characters, or main plots, or a secondary character which is very related to the main, it is likely that it has to go.

-          Is the scene moving the main plot? If yes keep it.

-          Does this scene forward a primary or secondary character’s story arc? If yes, probably keep it.

-          Is the scene for worldbuilding purposes only? It may not be enough. Find a way to merge this with another scene to do two things at once.

-          Does the status quo of the story from beginning to end of this scene find itself unchanged? (Data dumps are notorious for this.) If so, it is time to go, the scene doesn’t do enough to drive something forward.

-          Does this scene contradict another scene? Cut it.

-          Does the scene offer the exact same information as other parts of your story but from a different point of view? Consider these carefully. I have seen this done VERY well, but more often this is boring, as the reader already knows the outcome.

Nobody but you knows the story you want to tell, and why. But the reality we must embrace is that everything can’t make it into one book. Never throw away the parts you don’t keep, they are fodder for other tales. Remember you have a finite space and an infinite world in your head you have to convey to the reader. Remember your genre, the assumptions the reader will make, and what they take unconsciously with them into the book. Use them for shorthand when you can, or buck those trends when you want to, but be strict in your cuts to create a well-shaped story.

It is better to tell less very well, than to tell more poorly.

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