Cutting Scenes, Making Revisions, and Other Hard Things in Writing, With Examples from Pick a Card

So, a strangely large number of people follow my blog because I also talk about the writing process a good deal, and I’m slightly entertaining, which is interesting to me because I’m a mess, but…

I feel like I should always post a disclaimer or something that blog posts get worked on for me during twenty minute writing sprints when I have writer’s block, and a lot of the behind the scenes stuff that you end up getting from these blog posts actually helps me get out of my little funks. You see, some people don’t understand, but it’s hard to always be on as a writer, and also good ideas are far more rare than bad ones. The last time I updated my blog, however, I got a message from a reader wondering if they would ever find out all of the stuff that has been cut from my books, and I said, “Oh yeah, sure. That’s a good idea.”

Because, you know, cutting scenes and making revisions is good.

I know that we live in a very wordcount orientated world, but some ideas are just stupid and it’s the people who don’t learn when to cut or what makes good character dynamics that end up with overly bloated books that just aren’t fun to read.

And reading is supposed to be fun. Please see the video below for proof before I start getting into actual smart person talk here.

Double Pbs’s funding.

B. A. Lovejoy Shows You She Has a College Degree in Creative Writing (And Tells You Whether You Need One Too)

That’s right, I, Miss B. A. Lovejoy, am a college educated individual.

It’s really helped me with nothing, other than getting a few nonwriting related jobs, but you know what? I liked it, and I’m here, writing on my little WordPress blog, so I’m using my degree in some regard. Even if I suck at such basic things as proofreading and not making run on sentences every other paragraph.

In college we never actually talked about the art of cutting scenes and revision, largely because we weren’t working on novels or anything then (thank god for that), but we did talk about character motivations and scenes and all that.

I rented my textbooks though, so we’re not going to directly talk about that. We’re getting the cheap, dirty little summary of why to cut things by me, a girl who has not written a text book and who came from the bowels of the internet writing Batman and Harry Potter fanfiction to write folklore and classic literature fanfiction for a profit. I’m very qualified.

Highly qualified and slightly uncoordinated.

Anyway, I know a lot about cutting stuff because I take stuff out of my books all the time.

I do it for length, I do it for character development, I do it because I changed my mind, and I do it because if I don’t, then the things I leave in will haunt me until the end of time. So, without further ado, I present to you my totally official and highly effective list that tells you when to cut (or change) a scene. This is premium content here being offered without an 800 dollar textbook rental fee or a patreon subscription.

I’ll be honest, this graphic does, in fact, look really bad.

Pretty uninformative infographic, right?

Thanks, I made it myself.

So, I’ll get into the reasons why I cut certain scenes to really make this list make sense, but first, another thing for Pick a Card fans who don’t care about writing to breeze on by:

What Makes a Good Scene?

This is something that all creative writing programs discuss, but I think it’s really hard to fully explain, especially when academic programs focus so strongly on literary fiction versus genre fiction, which is kind of what the majority of what people read and write in the real world is about.

One of my professors once described the academic marriage between college English programs and literary fiction as this: “A wise move to keep university officials from defunding half of the English programs in the country.”

I think that she was right, considering the fact that literary fiction is the primary basis of nearly all creative composition programs in the US, and people regard literary fiction as holding higher value because of the literary criticism scene along with the prevailing image of authors as being these hardworking, unspoken geniuses slaving away in coffee shops with infinite knowledge stored within their brains.

I would not call myself smart nor extremely hardworking, but you know what I am? Goddamn determined.

It’s dumb because I reach for alien romance novels at one in the morning, and while I haven’t read Hemmingway since I graduated, I did read Ruby Dixon’s the Half-Orc’s Maiden Bride and read about a wash lady named Turnip whipping a girl’s sleeves above her head while getting drunk as all hell. I actually read it just last month, and I gave it five stars on goodreads because you know what? It made me happy, and two people sitting at a train station deciding whether or not to end their relationship did not. I did not want to read that at one in the morning.

I also, admittedly, got super annoyed with one of my professors and stormed into his office in college when he told the class that a certain author was insulted by the notion that people without a college degree would read his books and understand them, so he purposefully tried to alienate those readers. I didn’t think that was something for the author to be proud of, or for my professor to hoist up as the pinnacle of being a good author. I stand by the idea that books are meant to read and enjoy, and that while it’s great to say something and all, there’s a lot of value in making people happy. Also, I knew a lot of people without college degrees, and I didn’t like the idea of treating them like their readership held less value than mine, largely because having a college degree doesn’t make you smart or better than anyone. It just makes you have student debt (in America).

I have a degree in Creative Writing and almost got my MFA at a fully funded program. This is a look that 13 year old me thought was not only excellent, but worthy enough to be my school photo that year. Having a college degree does not make you smart.

We don’t live in great times, the world hasn’t been great recently– If I can give you one to four hours to escape all of that by reading my book, then it’s worth it to me.

Roll credits, end mushy gushy rant.

Let’s talk what makes a scene good.

Is It Crap? The Ultimate Scene Guide for a High Quality, Ultra Amazing Writer Who is Not Currently Procrastinating on Writing by Making this Blog Post.

Does your scene achieve at least one of the following:

  • Progress the plot in some notable way? (introducing conflict, solutions, background, etc.)
  • Develop relationships?
  • Tell us something important about a main or soon to be main character?
  • Foreshadow future events?

Or….

  • Entertain the reader.

The primary goal should be entertaining the reader. We give ’em treats to help them along the way because gosh darn it, they paid for this book, and they deserve to be happy. I’m not starving on the streets because of them, they’re giving me a nice life, and they’re invested in these characters. They need to be rewarded.

And so how do you reward your readers? You give them emotional validation and payoff, lots and lots of payoff.

There is nothing more satisfying as a reader than looking at a character on page eleven, saying that he’s an asshole, and being proven right on page 337. That is quality entertainment. I give my readers pay off, and sometimes that means punching and other times that means kissing. Actually it means a whole lot of things, payoff is just sorta a very vague sort of phrase, and since I write romance I feel like I have to specify that it does not really have to be sexual to give readers payoff. Get your mind out of the gutter people, we’re just trying to make readers happy.

If you go to school for writing, people also say that you can write scenes just to get your message across and further a reader’s understanding of what your story is supposed to mean, but I’m of the controversial opinion that books don’t need to have a coded message or mean anything at the end of the day, and trying to do that can occasionally be a little presumptuous. So instead another little element of composing a scene that I do is I ask myself if with everything going on a scene could say the wrong thing or imply something kind of weird.

Most of the time I can save these scenes, but occasionally I can not, and then I cut them too.

To know if something is reading weird or implying something you don’t intend it to, consider the current state of the world and recent events leading up to when you release a book. You might find that something that you never imagined could happen ended up happening fairly recently and everyone is rightfully concerned about it, and if you were to release the book that you were originally planning to release in said climate, things might not look very good for you and you might appear to be just a little bit evil.

Not that I know anything about that or that I’ve had to rewrite a whole book recently or anything of that sort. Not at all.

No one will ever know what was in the original draft of the Prison of Hearts, but this if I had to describe my relationship with that first book and the temptation to release it amidst all of the horrible stuff that’s happened? This. Definitely this. Particularly the line, “I can’t take a chance on a kid like you.” Listen, there were so many trial scenes and a war and death and adultery and… oh my god… It just would not have been a good look for me. Especially not now. It’s going to be a better book for all the changes I had to make, I promise you.
But it was tempting. And I sometimes still look at that draft.

B. A. Stops Trying to Teach People Things and Does What She Does Best: Talking (About Deleted Scenes).

Alright, so pretty much everyone and their mother knows that the trajectory for Pick a Card changed drastically at the beginning. It was originally supposed to be a reverse harem series, then have just about everyone in the main cast as the male lead, then someone was supposed to die and got saved by a fan poll, and then my dog peed on the series outline right at the beginning of Spades because I decided to have a floor desk–

Lord have mercy on my soul.

My point is, Anna was wrong at the beginning of frozen two and everything changes.

Liar.

The moment you start writing a series, the plan immediately changes. Or at least the moment I start writing a series, the plan changes.

So, with that in mind, we’re going book by book after starting with the premise and trying and failing to get the Frozen 2 soundtrack out of our mind along the way. Here is a comprehensive blog post about my shame. I’m not going to include everything, because some of what’s happening in Pick a Card still has to be a surprise, but I am going to give you way more than you needed.

Premise:

The original premise, as many people know because I keep bringing it up, was reverse harem Alice in Wonderland set in Victorian England, but that failed because I suck at writing reverse harem. So, we have like three alternate plot ideas, which started with the radio idea and somehow get worse from there.

Plot idea 2, because one was too bad to even have an outline:
Alice gets a radio from her father, it’s the eighties, her father is trapped in Wonderland but not? He’s essentially playing matchmaker for her and a bunch of weird ass hunks. This idea was vetoed because it is bad. And also because I already had a series set near the eighties and it was so god awful that I’ll probably have to unpublish it someday. (You can guess which one it is.)

Plot Idea 3, Kaeden is evil. Thomas is sexy. Alice is trying to be the Bachelorette.
This was a cool plot, because it was like each and every one of them was interviewing to win her hand in marriage, but I got one chapter in and then realized there was no greater conflict in this, and I couldn’t justify writing a whole series for a glorified dating show in book form. Also I’ve never watched the Bachelor. Or the Bachelorette. So I tossed this and went back to the first idea, then got four chapters in and came up with the current plot.
Which was cool because with the current plot, I made the decision to characterize my men around their faults rather than just try to build tv tropes archetypes of men, which worked really well in making each feel unique and memorable in their own way.

Even if some are memorable for the wrong reasons.

Canned Ideas for the Book of Clovers:

  • Alice was originally supposed to live with Fitz.
    This got canned because it didn’t allow her room to develop her relationships with other characters and living with Fitz further divorced her from her father’s legacy and the notion of trying to figure out what happened to him before leaving Wonderland; largely due to the fact that she was currently living with a man who was identified to be one of the few to know how to travel through the worlds and who previously possessed her father’s pocket watch.
  • Conversations about race and ethnic identity were never included because it’s Wonderland and no one would care what the earthly racial identities of the Red Queen or the Queen of Hearts were when Claude was walking around half freaking cat.
    The topic was brought up by a friend really early on in the series’ conception and it was decided that race as we know it and ethnicity weren’t exactly going to be a conversation that we could have when the obvious racial make up of Cards deviated from race as the social construct that we know it as into race as a DND concept, which I know far too well. More than that, I’m extremely privileged being a white woman living in America and I can’t really talk race in a way that gives proper depth to the topic, and part of being a good writer and a decent human being is knowing when you don’t know something. So, the official racial make up of sentient beings in Wonderland that participate in society as it is is this: Humans, Animal Folk of all Types, Houses, Chess Pieces, Flowers, Giant Fire Breathing Monsters, Small Fire Breathing Monsters, Living Printing Presses that Produce Only Gossip and Trash, and Some Trees.
    I would give you their tabletop rpg stats too, but I don’t feel like being sued.
    If you ever wonder if I have any particularly strong feelings about how a character is portrayed outside of the limited descriptions you’ve read, then you should know this: Roisin is red all over, except for the whites of her eyes (this includes her clothing 90% of the time), and the Jabberwock is not a dragon but is instead sort of like a wyvern with a long neck ala Nessie and very shiny scales which we never really get a proper look at because he’s too busy chasing Alice to be fully described. Also it is dark. I imagine he has only two eyes, and more teeth than most people have hair on their head, but aside from being a ball of scales and teeth, there’s not really much I can say about him that will do full justice to how scary and mean he is meant to be read.
  • Gilbert was going to climb through the Rabbit Hole and find his way into Cards by the end of the book, but that was cut because it was dumb and no one would be interested in reading a love story about such a remarkably unlikable character to begin with.
    It was a bad idea, let’s be honest.
  • William was going to kiss Alice at the end of the book.
    This was cut because my mother said he was too old, and Manon is a remarkably likable character that is much more interesting than Alice in some regards, so it felt weird for William to lean down and kiss her. I didn’t want to give up on this pairing, however, and left their feelings open to be resolved in the second book, which they were within the first twenty pages after I had a coming to Jesus moment and realized that no, it just can’t be William. He’s just…. him.
Also, William has been in or near last place since the very beginning, and there was simply no way the man was ever going to make it happen and get into the top three with the amount of readers my books bring in. Like maybe if someone like coordinated a tiktok movement or something to drag his decaying body up to the top, then we could do it, but spiritually I know that I could never end things with him as the lead; I’m not viral booktok material, and Alice and William just don’t have the chemistry… or do they? Dun, dun, duuuuuuuuuun.

(They don’t.)

Deleted Things from the City of Diamonds

A lot less was cut from Diamonds largely because it was written so long after Clovers, and I had a good idea of what the audience was expecting and exactly how things were meant to go. A lot of what was cut or changed were short conversations, or things that I knew, as it was, just weren’t going to fly with my audience. These changes included:

  • Fitzgerald kissing Alice within her kitchen while visiting her, and beginning a sort of on and off affair with Alice that would have carried on until the Prison of Hearts.
    I really wanted this to happen, but the two just weren’t there and I knew it wouldn’t go over well.
    Just look at the poll above and tell me you think it would have been fun. My man is near the bottom, Kaeden’s up top, and we’ve got this sort of middle ground going on with Alice and all of her major relationships in the City of Diamonds that meant that having a wild kitchen make out just wasn’t fitting into the cards for book two. I always loved Fitz, however, I didn’t want to let it go, and I ended up fighting to make use of this scene until almost the very last second.
  • Thomas was supposed to show up earlier.
    He actually was supposed to show up I think around chapter five? Maybe six? Right before they get into the carriage to go to Diamonds, he was supposed to be the driver, but there is something to be said about drama and the theatrics of his appearance in Diamonds. It was just so good. I really wanted him to make an entrance, and I can’t explain why, but I just felt like it would really set up his character for the rest of the series.
  • There was originally no Caterpillar scene.
    That’s right, it ended in the woods, bay-bee, but that was a little too final of an ending and it didn’t give me anything to work with for Spades, so the Caterpillar scene was added in during one of the final drafts. Like, so late that it definitely did not get enough editing and we ended up having to re-proofread the whole chapter the day after it came out in terror, because we knew there would be a typo. There were three that I know of and it haunts me to this day.
    (Please see the file attached to this blog post to fully understand how awfully I write and appreciate the fact that my editor has a lot to go through before things can even get to print. I’m an awfully messy writer, and things still get by us every now and again.)
  • The Jabberwock was going to drop Manon and she was going to die as a result.
    Manon is more use to me alive than she was dying here. Also, it feels like writers kill women left and right to advance male characters, when really they should be looking within themselves way before some hot blonde dies. You know, powerful men finding the strength to make the effort and change on their own– it’s some high quality stuff. But maybe I just read a bunch of Batman.
In an alternate universe, Stephanie Brown stayed dead and I’m not a writer.

Also dying from being dropped by a human-dragon-wyvern-gross beast hybrid is actually such a lame way to go.

  • William was debating drowning himself in a cup of tea upon the news that Manon and Fitzgerald were engaged.
    I actually consider this still canon, it just gave absolutely nothing to the book and was overall a remarkably bad scene where not much other than Alice visiting William was going on. The two of them sat in his living room, he asked her how Manon was doing, she lied and said everything was fine, and then he buried his face in the cup of tea and declared loudly that he would rather just die. It was a really strange chapter, and it’s shockingly boring compared to what took its place (Kaeden and Alice discovering the Joker Cards within the Clock Tower), so out it went. I did try to reuse this in Spades but then it got the axe there too, and I really thought about trying again with the Prison of Hearts, but ultimately, it is a crap scene.
    Sometimes I just have to accept that.

Nothing was Spared in Spades

I’m pretty sure Spades has the highest wordcount of scenes cut from me… ever. At least until the Prison of Hearts, where I’ve had to rewrite the whole book. The things cut from Spades and their reasonings are as follows:

  • William had a whole bunch of artwork of Manon made.
    This is still canon if you want it to be. William just got a ton of scenes cut.
    I think it was chapter five or chapter six originally? Alice went to visit William to see how he was doing and ask about the Clock Turning Ceremony only to find herself dragged into a tea party with the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and a regular old bear that was chained to the table. Behind William sat a massive painting of Manon, and all around Alice were statues of Manon. This scene, however, gave us nothing other than the comedic relief of Alice sitting beside a wild bear and William chugging tea left and right until he eventually had to excuse himself and the bear gave Alice eyes that just begged her to free him. It was funny as heck, I loved it, but I think I would have been the only one who loved it and also again it did nothing.
  • The Queen of Hearts was going to die mid-book.
    I was really liking the idea of Kaeden coming into his own this book, and so initially, I decided to kill the Queen of Hearts. It is still canon when the Caterpillar says that he is sending flowers to an old friend, he is in fact sending them to the Queen of Hearts for reasons still undiscussed, but in the original Spades book he was like a creepy Albus Dumbledore-esq figure and he was sending her the flowers because she was going to die. Just flat out, he knew that. It was a bit ominous, all things considered, and the Queen of Hearts dying was going to lead into the next scene…
  • Kaeden was going to punch Fitz.
    It was always my wish to see them tussle, and I think everyone who’s read this series knows that the two don’t get along. The moment that Kaeden got the news, Fitz was supposed to give a cutting remark and tell him he must be glad that all of the trouble is over. Claude was eventually going to have to pull the two of them apart, but not before Kaeden got his hands dirty, and Alice was going to watch Kaeden walk away not knowing if she’s doing the right thing by staying with Fitz.
  • Kaeden was going to become Hearts’ sole monarch, and Alice was going to be left in the dust.
    This was the conclusion of the whole Queen of Hearts dying arc. Our boy was going to going to go to his mother’s funeral and receive the formal crown of Hearts all in one day, then make moves to become the King of Cards because he couldn’t stand the inaction any longer. There was going to be a big long scene where Alice asked where that left the two of them, and Kaeden was going to remark that he didn’t have time for love anymore; but there was something about that that just didn’t feel right.
    I’m a large believer in irony and building your own enemies (which Alice was going to accidentally end up doing by staying beside Fitz after the punching moment), but I also really enjoy consistent characterization and happier arc conclusions. While Kaeden moving into a more serious understanding of being the King of Hearts was one way to take on his character flaws, it also took away a lot of the things that I liked about him and it didn’t give readers the emotional crescendo that could have been. So, ultimately the Queen of Hearts dying was panned as a plotline, and Alice was spared from the fate of watching one of her closest friends suddenly grow up and ultimately leave her behind as she struggled to come to terms with it all.
    Also my dog peed on this outline because I decided to work on the floor which I no longer recommend if you happen to have old, very easily excited dogs that occasionally empty their bladder when you come back from talking to the mailman.
  • Claude and Alice were going to do the do, just for fun.
    I mean… it was an idea. Not the worst idea, but an idea. I really thought that this was great, but it didn’t give us the sort of character development we needed, and it really ruined Claude as a character.
    I think that a lot of the reason why we see Claude and Alice’s relationship take the turns that it has is because there’s something so charming about Claude being the way that he is and slowly learning how to be a friend to Alice. Like he very obviously doesn’t realize that he’s doing it, but the two come together in what is probably the healthiest outside of family friendship that Claude has. He not only respects Alice’s opinion, but he fears it, and his overly affectionate actions towards Alice begin to tone down a lot as he grapples with the reality of what he’s done and the fear of losing his friend as well as his struggles with what relationships he wants to keep and the boundaries he should draw with others. I think Claude’s actions in this book can really be read two ways: either he’s sneaking around because he’s a devious little brat, or he’s sneaking around because he knows what will happen when Alice figures it all out, and obviously Alice sees it one way, and we as readers are given the ability to step it back and see it through either her lens or his.
    The path that he takes is just good, okay? I’m proud of it. (You’re allowed to point to stuff and be proud of it as a writer, just so you know. Like it’s not egotistical, it’s stepping back to smell the roses because you spent a long time spreading out bags of manure. If you never actually look at those roses after spreading all the cow poop dirt, then you’re not going to be as inclined to do such a thing ever again. Be happy, you little type goblins, even if you’ve only written a chapter.)
  • Thomas was there to bang too.

Did you know that my mom actually detests Thomas?
Well, she does, and he got a lot less pagetime as a result.
My mother reads every book that I put out and when she got to the end of Diamonds, she audibly groaned when she got to Thomas. He’s her least favorite, she hates the guy!
I once spent a whole day writing this great scene where Thomas was sort of like, “hey, you’re here, I’m here, we should do something with that,” and then hit backspace x1000 times as quickly because I knew that my mother would hate it, and my mother is the beta tester for you guys. So strong is her hatred of Thomas that I had to delete dozens of pages and eventually admit to myself that yes he does come off a bit swarmy in a lot of dialogue because he’s just got a thing about him, and we already don’t trust him from literally every book before this. Cutting all of it like dead weight hanging off the side of my boat made it so that the ending of Spades was that much more interesting and compelling, because you were left wondering why the hell he was doing it.
A bunch of readers have rightfully assumed that the reason is not good, but you’ll have to read the Prison of Hearts to find out for sure.

But wait, B. A., when does the Prison of Hearts come out now?

Stay tuned for later, when I will have actual legitimate answers to your actual legitimate questions, and we will all find out when the re-written, not garbage Prison of Hearts comes out, and what the hell else I’ve been doing. (It’s…. I mean, it’s middleground good/bad.) I’ll also probably provide you with more beautiful blog content as I work on Alice in the Book of Jokes (is that a good title?) and get repeatedly stuck this month.

I should also probably ask my blog readers now if, because of how weird my nanowrimo posting gets and the way I stagger some releases to come out later rather than right away, do you want me to sit down and actually do a start to finish how it’s made here? Like premise, plot, composition, cover, and so on, start to finish of a book all in one post with maybe further topic break downs later?

Let me know if you do, since my nanowrimo posts were supposed to be that but sort of lose the plot over 30 days of writing.

Obligatory, “this is the series that I’m currently working on,” plug.

Wow, look at that series. It sure is three books long (right now), which some would say is long enough to get into a series. Sure is tempting to read it, or maybe even leave a review, maybe recommend to a few friends?

If you don’t have kindle unlimited or maybe don’t feel comfortable buying it but still want to check it out and feel comfortable with advanced reader copies (which are never the final final, but super close to it with minor typos fixed later on), I heard that a lot of my books are up under a mysterious account that may or may not be me on Booksirens, and for the low low price of a review, you could even read them. For free. While supporting me, your neighborhood author with only two braincells.

Think about it.

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