Cutting scenes (but also, why Changeling is so long)

Because that’s how long it took to tell the story. I really wanted to tell it under 80,000 words, and, if at all possible at 100,000 words, but the beginning needed more. I had even sacrificed my two favourite scenes. The scene where Kevin takes Matt to the arcade and the scene where spoiler does spoiler, but at the end, I had to go back and put them back in.

For most of the scenes in the cut scene, they ended up being superfluous for the story at the time that they happened. I don’t plan the books I n write, but my process allows for that. I truly respect authors who can write out a four page outline as to what the story is going to be about and then sit down and write that story. There’s an amount of ordered thought to that that I couldn’t even dream of.

I start with a character in a situation and an ending that I have a vague sense of. I start with an interesting character with an interesting problem in an interesting world and try to let the story guide itself. In the first draft, this can mean not really figuring out what was going on until the last quarter. That means that if the book is a room in pitch darkness, I spend a lot of time groping about, trying to identify everything that is in the room as points to the plot.

By the end of the book, I know what I’ve written. It’s like turning on a light and not just having to guess at what I was trying to describe, but see it clearly for what it was. Sometimes I ended up spending a lot of time describing something that was far more complex than it was in the bright light of day, and some times there’s a smoking gun in the middle of the room that I didn’t stumble across.

It means a lot of what had formed the story to get to the ending was wrong. And I know that’s hard to hear when a book spends so much time getting all the way out of you, but I wish I had known a decade ago that all that time I spent trying to save my deathless prose with the least amount of effort got me no further in my writing path.

I think discovering micro-tension put the last nail on the coffin of trying to save the scene for being what it is. I know a lot of people that I really respect who don’t bother with making each sentence have a sense that the character is struggling, it makes for a quick read. The more the microtension carries the piece, though, the harder it is to just cut and paste section from scene to scene. The character knows what they know at the time they know it, and if the tension in the sentence is out of whack with the tension in the scene, it always reads to me like there’s a flat tire on your car.

Is that mixing enough metaphors? Yes? I think I’m done. Except to say that if you cut a scene and it physically hurts to do so, and you start to obsess about it, it should probably go back into the manuscript. Cutting away the scene at the curry shop, even though it solidifies the reason as to why Matt decides that no matter how much he loves Kevin, he’s realistic that the relationship is less than a week old and he can’t possibly trust Kevin with Sam’s life. His own, sure. Sam’s? No way. I’ve already made that point, so redundancy is redundant.

But the arcade scene? Matt never does anything for just himself, and would never do something fun just for himself. Him giving up his arcade games wasn’t just a financial choice, though, it also reminded him horribly of the really bad choice he made in one. When Kevin takes him out to the funland, Matt could be exactly what he was, a nineteen year old kid for once in his life.

That it also showed that when he stops worrying about “acting gay”, his body moves effortlessly, he has fine motor control, and it gives him a way of being able to “see” the moves he needs to make in order to do magic in a way that makes sense to him. In book three, when he climbs up a tree, all he sees are the up down and sideways arrows that make a very complex task simple. Cutting it would have cut out five thousand words and a piece from the chest cavity of the book.

There. That’s enough mixed metaphors for the day.

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