Never throw out a scene you’ve written. I’m not saying don’t cut scenes–sometimes the story needs judicious trimming for the sake of pacing and to keep the pages turning. Sometimes the scene you’ve written just doesn’t belong. Sometimes you realize in retrospect it told you something about the character and it’s very useful to you, but not to the story. Cutting it only makes sense. But don’t throw it away.
Sometimes all you have is a scene. An idea, a thought, a single snapshot, as it were. You have something you want to say but you’re not sure what. You have an inkling of a story but don’t know what the rest of it will be. Be patient. Let it simmer on the back burner of your mind. But don’t throw it away.
Some time ago, I attended a sci-fi convention in which the guest of honor was George R.R. Martin. At the time, I knew of his series A Song of Ice and Fire, though I’d only heard of the first book, A Game of Thrones. I knew he’d worked on Beauty and the Beast, a television show I’d enjoyed, so I was interested in hearing what he’d had to say. Mind you, GOT as well know it, the television show everyone is talking about, didn’t exist. Only two or three books in the series had been written at this point. Even so, Martin was well-known in the sci-fi community for his work and it was considered a coup for the convention to have him as a guest speaker.
For a little perspective: at the time of the convention in question, there were no such things as Smartphones. People still used MySpace and Twitter didn’t exist. E-readers where just starting to become available and they cost a bloody fortune. And the only way to self-publish was through a vanity press. Wow. Hard to believe, eh?
Martin had some fascinating and harsh things to say about the publishing industry, which I plan to share in a different post, but the thing that struck me most about his address was when he told us that once he’d written a scene that didn’t belong to anything else he was working on. It wasn’t a complete story–it was just a scene he’d pictured in his mind: a woman and a white wolf.
After he’d completed the short scene, he didn’t know what to do with it. Shrugging, he tossed it into a drawer, where it sat for the next ten years. One day he ran across it again and somehow, after all that time lying dormant, the seeds within it came to life. Apparently his subconscious never forgot about the scene because now a story sprang up to go with it–and A Game of Thrones was born.
So the next time you write a scene because you just can’t get it out of your head until you do, don’t hit delete when you’re done. Even if you think it’s incomplete and serves no purpose, you never know.
You could hold the next great series, the stories that everyone is talking about, in your hands.