Rescuing Princess Pouty-Puss

Posted: February 24, 2016 in Writing
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Show of hands; how many of you have written a scene you are very proud of, which you adore, and which showcases your very best efforts, but which you suspect (or have been told) must be cut from your novel?

Okay, you can put your hands down.  We’ve all been there, to one degree or another.  Sure, there are plenty of times we find ourselves needing to cut scenes that aren’t working, or are poorly written, or lead down a rabbit hole we’d rather avoid.  Those are easy scenes to cut, because they are clearly problems or mistakes.  You feel better for having cut them (aside from lamenting the time and effort wasted along the way).

Last week I shared a long scene from my daughter’s and my novel, The Last Princess, which we have been advised to cut.  It has been suggested several times that this long scene slows down the pace, derails the plot, and delays the inciting incident.

It is also my daughter’s and one of our beta readers’ favorite scenes in the book. It is a scene I believe to be among the tightest and best-written in the whole novel.  Plus it serves an important purpose in the story: it provides the emotional motivation for our hero to turn against everything she has come to believe and to defy her mother, both of which lead directly into her adventure.

I resisted the calls to cut it many times, and for many months.  Because I had many reasons to justify leaving it in, and leaving a scene in is always easier than cutting one and  filling in the resulting hole with Bondo, sanding it smooth, and repainting so you can’t see the damage.

Let me tell you, justification can be a dangerous thing.  Making up your mind before you consider the alternative is a bad practice in any circumstance or career.

But then one more person who had never read the book before looked at the first three chapters and made that same comment: The scene slows down the pacing, derails the plot and delays the inciting incident.  So I took a serious look.

Yeah, it does all of those things.  Because the scene is a mini story all on it’s own that, for all it’s fun and excitement and importance and quality of writing, is still a story that stands apart from the rest of the book.  The family takes the hero to a themed restaurant similar to Medival Times, where she is chosen by one of the Knights to be the Princess of the Realm if he wins the tournament, and we experience her heartbreak when not only does she lose, but another girl, “Princess Pouty-puss” — utterly undeserving of the honor — wins the crown, despite our hero doing everything she is supposed to do. We never see any of those characters again or visit that place again, nor do we ever mention it again.  It iss an elaborate, scene with one goal, and it stands out like a barnacle on a ship’s hull.

So it has to go, right?

Well, maybe not.  At first I thought I could just cut the whole thing off, like an extra toe, and give our hero a different reason already in the story to change her mind.  Albeit, it would probably not be as compelling a reason, it it would not have the benefit of the emotional build-up and let-down the longer scene provides, but the alteration would at least not pull us out of the story for several pages.

And then I saw the problem from a different angle.  What if I made the scene relevant and part of the story, instead of a detour?  What if our hero talks about Joustorama earlier in the story and wishes she could go there?  What if she mentions how much it would mean to her to be chosen princess?  Now, all of a sudden, the scene at Joustorama fulfills a promise set up earlier in the story, and we have a pre-existing reason to hope for the outcome the hero wants.

This won’t speed up the pacing, but perhaps that isn’t really the issue (and perhaps it is). Just maybe the fact that the scene as currently written is a detour away from the rest of the story makes it seem like it ruins the pacing.  And just maybe by making it a part of the story, it will flow as intended.

So maybe I can save Joustorama and Princess Pouty-puss after all.

  1. Amira says:

    I agree, don’t take the scene out. Find a way to integrate it better. I personally think what it needs is more showing of how Cat is determined to win using her mother’s method. As in you should make it clear earlier on that that’s what she’s trying to do.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sandra Coopersmith says:

    So here’s my take on it. Consider the sweet irony of wanting so much to be princess, losing to Princess Pouty-Puss, and then ending up a princess herself with actual power. There has to be a way of tying that earlier scene in with what happens later, maybe with her reminiscing about it . . . ?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. argylehartley says:

    The key for integrating the scene is to make sure it progresses the storyline/plot in some way. She will have to learn something from the experience or gain something material that will either (1) form part of a solution that she later faces that the reader can say, of course that was the solution! Or (2) change her character is some way that will lead her to have the courage or knowledge to face up to a greater problem. Sorry, I rambled a bit there, but you get the idea! Hopefully, you can build the perfect solution 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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