It’s important for stories to be concise.
END OF ARTICLE.
I kid, I kid…
When we try to make things concise, NECESSITY becomes an important word. What’s the best way to cut things down? Keep what’s NECESSARY, lose the rest.
Let’s investigate with some examples!
Recently, I was watching the best sequel ever made:
I saw this scene:
Basically, after giving Marty a whole lecture about avoiding his past self, Doc runs into HIS past self and has a neat little convo.
I thought, “This is a pretty cool scene. But is it NECESSARY?”
The truth is:
No! It’s really not.
If that scene was cut, NOTHING would change. The scene didn’t further the plot, didn’t really further character, and wasn’t even necessary for pacing.
That scene could be cut.
(Really from Back to the Future 1:)
Marty is asked to play something that will “really get them going!” He plays Johnny B Goode and goes overboard, TOTALLY rocking out 80s style to the horror and confusion of the 50s teenagers.
Another GREAT scene, but was it NECESSARY?
Honestly, no! Definitely didn’t add to the plot. It expressed Marty’s character, true, but it wasn’t some BIG moment in his character arc or anything. The movie would totally be intact without this scene.
This scene could be cut.
A mysterious man approaches Marty. He looks TOTALLY menacing. He says threateningly, “I’ve GOT something for you!”
He reaches into his jacket with a scowl.
And… “A letter!”
Now for reals–what was the necessity of this bait-and-switch? If we’re being honest, he could have just started with, “Mr. McFly! Are you Marty McFly? I’ve got a letter for you. Actually, we’ve had this letter etc etc”
A small cut, but an unnecessary piece of dialogue, and therefore we can cut it.
Could we have made a time travel movie without hoverboards?
We totally could.
They didn’t add to the plot. Marty didn’t NEED a hoverboard for the chase scenes. He could have been on foot and the scenes still would have WORKED.
You took away Doc running into himself!
You took away Johnny Be Good!
You took away “I’ve GOT something for you!”
YOU’RE NOT TAKING AWAY MY HOVERBOARDS!
YOU CAN’T HAVE THEM!
They really aren’t NECESSARY.
You COULD have Back to the Future II without it.
Bah! What a lame word…
In my opinion, “Is it NECESSARY?” is the wrong question.
To that question, I respond with the words of a wise man:
“NECESSARY? Is it NECESSARY for me to drink my own urine? NO! But I do it anyway because it’s STERILE and I LIKE THE TASTE!” — Patches O’Houlihan
THIS is the principle we should work with from now on.
In these terms.
I’m not kidding.
When you’re trying to decide whether to cut something, ask:
1. Is it sterile?
2. Do I like the taste?
Allow me to explain.
Question #1: Is it sterile? – Does it cause PROBLEMS?
Examples: Does it make the plot to be more COMPLEX than it has to be? Does it make the story move SLOWLY when it needs to move FAST? Does it muddle the personality of the one of the CHARACTERS? Is it DISTRACTING from what the story is ABOUT right now?
Quesion #2 – Do I like the taste? – Does it ADD anything GOOD?
Examples: Is it funny? Is it epic? Is it touching? Is it cool? Does it bring out something special in one of the characters? Does it make the plot more interesting?
If a scene causes problems AND doesn’t add anything good — cut it.
If a scene doesn’t cause problems, but ALSO doesn’t add anything good — cut it.
If a scene doesn’t cause problems, but DOES add something good — keep it!
If a scene causes problems BUT ALSO adds something good — well, then it’s harder!
But not THAT much harder.
You have your pros, you have your cons. What outweighs what?
(I know, easier said than done.)
There is SO much in the Back to the Future movies that isn’t NECESSARY, but should by NO MEANS have been cut!
Like the “I think he took that guy’s wallet!” dude!
I love that guy!
SO not necessary, but it doesn’t cause ANY problems and the guy’s HILARIOUS!
“Get yourself some 50s clothes! SOMETHING INCONSPICUOUS!”
Necssary? NOPE. But doesn’t slow things down, it enhances the mood, it’s funny — KEEP IT!
The hilarious scenes with Marty’s future family?
ALL the small scenes showing off futuristic technology?
Random Frodo scene?
ALL NOT NECESSARY.
But they make the movie FUN, INTERESTING, EXCITING, and they DON’T CAUSE PROBLEMS.
Now, I know I’m using some extreme examples here. Of course, the scenes that make Back to the Future so fun, interesting, and exciting should not be cut.
When you’re deep into revisions and are looking for what to cut, that’s NOT the stuff you’ll have trouble with.
Here’s the most common problem scenario:
Do I like the Taste? Yes, the scene adds X, Y, Z.
Is it Sterile? No.
What’s the problem it causes?
It makes the story LONGER.
THIS is definitely the most common problem.
Which means you’ll have to do a cost-benefit analysis.
NOW when you come to this scenario, you’ll think twice before asking “Is it necessary?”
THAT question leads to writers cutting some of the best scenes from their stories. Even though what will be left might be the proper length and a coherent story, it will have lost much of what made it SHINE.
KEEP YOUR GOOD SCENES.
Even if they don’t further the plot.
Even if they don’t further character.
Even if they don’t involve (the dreaded term…) CONFLICT.
As long as it doesn’t cause problems or does more good than the problems it causes–
KEEP YOUR GOOD SCENES.
Just be SUPER vigilant for problems.
(Because before revisions, your story is probably full of them.)
(So if you’re objective, you’ll probably still be cutting a ton.)
P.S. I cut the end joke from this post because it wasn’t necessary…