One of the most fascinating things about writing original fiction is the drafting process. During that process, one that typically involves some combination of planning, revision, and improvisation, it’s almost inevitable that not everything makes it into the final version of the story. There are all sorts of reasons for that.
Perhaps the most common reason is that some aspect of the story changes in a way that makes part of the story obsolete. Imagine that you’re writing a story in which the main characters have to visit the birthplace of the villain in order to uncover secrets about the villain’s past. If, for example, you decide to change something about the villain’s past during the drafting process, then it’s highly likely that the visit to the villain’s birthplace will have to change too.
I can give you a more concrete example from The Last Huntress. In some of the earliest drafts, I had the titular huntress, Scarlett, adopt a much colder and ruthless approach to Rose’s training. Quite a few of those scenes were either altered or omitted entirely as I got a better grasp of who I wanted Scarlett to be. The final version of Scarlett isn’t so much someone who doesn’t care about living (as the earlier versions were), as she is someone who isn’t quite sure of how to live because being a huntress is all she’s ever known. In fact, some of the last scenes to be added were those in which Rose asks Scarlett about what she plans to do in the future, a question that Scarlett cannot answer to Rose’s (or her own) satisfaction.
Things also get cut from stories for mundane reasons, such as brevity and clarity. Contrary to what some people may believe, simply making a story longer does not make it better. In fact, a longer story is usually only better when that added length is put to good use. Simply adding more scenes to the story is pointless unless those scenes serve some sort of purpose.
I’ll be honest and admit that this is something I am guilty of, especially when it comes to writing something humorous. I’ll often throw in some scenes that have no bearing to the plot, characters, or setting simply because I think they are funny. When I go through the drafting process, however, I typically try to either cut these scenes or make them relevant to the story. I might, for instance, alter these scenes to introduce important plot points or to help flesh out the way the characters interact with each other.
If you look carefully at Two Necromancers, a Bureaucrat, and an Elf, you’ll find that even the craziest scenes do at least one of the following:
- Move the plot forward
- Provide details about the setting
- Give the readers a better grasp of the characters and how they relate to each other and their world
Take the opening scene in which Timmy the necromancer is forced to club to death one of his aberrant creations with a shovel. The scene is deliberately written to be humorous, yet it manages to get across details about the setting, the plot, and the characters. Even the amusing way that Timmy grumbles about his apprentice, Katie, gives the reader some idea of what to expect before she make her first real appearance.
The earliest versions of that scene were all over the place and were written almost entirely to be funny without considering how they could help the story in other ways. Although parts of those early drafts never made it into the final version, the end result was much better because I was willing to alter, and even remove, the bits that didn’t do anything.
This isn’t to say that bits of fluffy humour don’t have a place, especially in a story like Two Necromancers, a Bureaucrat, and an Elf, but you can’t have too many of them. It’s like adding salt to your meal. Just the right amount can really make something taste great, but too much and it tastes horrible. Likewise, having scenes that don’t really do much for the plot, characters, or setting can work, but if there are too many, then the whole thing comes across as sloppy and bloated.
Having the courage to cut things when they don’t fit/work can also have other benefits. Sometimes a scene doesn’t fit with the story you’re writing now, but it will fit with a story you write later.
One area where this is particularly relevant is in the interaction between characters. The development of a relationship (platonic, romantic, or otherwise) between two individuals can be a difficult thing to portray realistically and engagingly. Friendships, for instance, are not a one-size-fits-all affair. Sometimes, they develop smoothly. Sometimes, they develop in stops and starts. As a result, it can take a lot of fine tuning to accurately depict a relationship between two characters, so scenes that don’t fit at one point in time may find a home elsewhere.
I’ll give you guys another example from Two Necromancers, a Bureaucrat, and an Elf and Two Necromancers, an Army of Golems, and a Demon Lord. Gerald is a bureaucrat with precisely zero skill in combat and an alarming ability to get into trouble. His survival thus far is likely due to some combination of luck, the ability to run reasonably fast, and his penchant for hiding behind characters (e.g., Timmy and Katie) who can actually fight off big, scary things that want to kill/eat/mangle people.
Now, one of Gerald’s better qualities is his generally affable nature. He gets along reasonably well with most people. Hence, Timmy and Katie don’t particularly mind constantly saving him from impending doom.
On the other hand, Avraniel is the complete opposite of Gerald. She is, essentially, a walking natural disaster. When she wants something dead or on fire, it gets dead or on fire very quickly. She is the definition of someone who kicks ass and takes names because she can.
Naturally, she and Gerald have an interesting relationship. What is relevant to the present discussion, however, is how that relationship is depicted. They don’t actually deal with each other much in Two Necromancers, a Bureaucrat, and an Elf. This is largely due to Gerald’s concern about her possibly introducing him to horrible, fiery death. As a result, it’s usually up to Timmy to deal with her since he’s the character most able to stand up to her in anything even remotely resembling a fair fight. Nevertheless, I did write a lot of scenes trying to show how Gerald and Avraniel might get along if they were to interact with each other more. Almost none of those made the cut.
In Two Necromancers, an Army of Golems, and a Demon Lord, however, things are a bit different. Gerald is no longer quite so terrified of Avraniel. In fact, he seems to think that’s she not all that bad. That changed opinion is what leads directly to the scene involving Gerald, Avraniel, and a giant, carnivorous plant, which was a scene that I had originally sketched out for Two Necromancers, a Bureaucrat, and an Elf. It didn’t find a home there, but it did find a home later on, once things had changed a little bit. That scene ended up being one of my favourites because it helped establish exactly where Avraniel and Gerald stood with respect to one another.
Sometimes, things also get cut from the final version of a story because it simply makes more sense for them to be part of a separate story. This is especially true for stories that are more episodic in nature. In those sorts of stories, it is important that each story have a definite start and end point. Stories can be connected but still self-contained. That is, enjoyable in their own right, despite being part of a larger whole.
Throwing together multiple stories to increase the length of a text can actually be quite deleterious. Even in the same series, different stories can have very different tones and dynamics. Using another two of my stories as an example, I chose to split The Gunslinger and the Necromancer up from its sequel (as yet unfinished, but currently in what is likely to be its final draft) because the former featured the main character, Lizzy, acting largely on her own. In the sequel, however, she shares the story with her older brother (and favourite sibling), Matt.
The dynamic between Lizzy and Matt results in enough differences that both stories were better off being separate, rather than combined, even though both were not especially long stories.
The cutting room floor is a necessary part of writing. Barring some kind of miracle, stories typically need at least some revision. This revision often results in parts of the story being altered or even cut during the drafting process, and there are sounds reasons for why this is a good idea.
The cutting room floor can also give you a better sense of who someone is as a writer because what they keep and what they cut can provide insight into what they consider important in their writing. Indeed, I’m strongly considering posting most of the material that ends up on my cutting room floor not only to entertain my readers between publications but also to help improve my own writing.
If you want to read more about my thoughts on writing, you can find those here.
I also write original fiction, which you can find here.