If a scene, character, or even a setting, does nothing to further the story along, then it doesn’t need to be in the book. It is far too easy to get into “developing a character” or “setting the scene” and yet none of it helps the story. Several years ago, I began seeing plot bits as strings. And they had to come together in form the rope that is the novel at some point near or at the end. If a string didn’t tie to that, well, it didn’t need to be there. Tangents can be fun and even educational but if it is a tangent, and not a true plot string, snip it.
In Simple Sarah (the book stuck in perpetual edits since I started in ’04), I killed a character. Not in the ‘had a funeral’ kind of way. I killed her by removing her from the book. I kinda sorta liked the character but it was her horse I liked more. When I realized that, out she went (wow. just realized I wrote that post 3 years ago…).
In The Awakening, I had this family of five. In one version, I had them be all pissy and grumpy and struggling with their new reality. I back tracked a little because this attitude had no basis so I put one in. Didn’t like it. Didn’t know how to end it. So I backed up again and made them all nice and sweet. And that’s when I realized they did nothing to further the story along. There’s enough conflict and tension without them. So, yeah, out they went. One of the characters actually had a good role and I didn’t want to get rid of the role, just the person in it. I spent two days thinking (yeah, smoke was everywhere) and decided who to put there instead. I played a little with that direction and liked it better.
Which is why I am going through the book again but this time, my tangent radar has an upgrade.