Avoid the “Empty Calories” of Extraneous Scenes

Junior MintsI am an absolute nut for Junior Mints. I admittedly eat far too many of them in the course of the day, and then have to compensate for the indulgence with daily exercise.

My passion for the sweet, minty, chocolate-coated candies started in childhood. At the movies, a box of Junior Mints would be my treat of choice. I would have to discipline myself not to open the box and start eating until the movie started, or I’d finish them off too soon. Now I buy the mondo 12-ounce packages when I can find them at Walmart or Target and force myself to only eat five at a time.

As tasty as these yummy morsels are, they are regrettably empty calories. There is no nutrition whatsoever in Junior Mints. They’re nothing but sugar (okay, and some modified food starch plus a few other ingredients). They add nothing to my diet.

What do Junior Mints have to do with writing? Well, let’s say you’re writing a romantic thriller. You have this marvelous idea for a scene in your novel. There’s going to be a summer carnival in town and your hero and heroine will be attending together. He’s going to show off his skills at dime tossing, she’ll demonstrate her stomach-stretching prowess in the pie-eating contest. They’ll go on the Ferris wheel and it will get stuck for a few minutes, then the operator will fix it and they’ll get off again. They’ll have a final cotton candy, then he’ll take her home.

This is the story equivalent of Junior Mints. You could write this scene beautifully, have your reader smelling the popcorn, hearing the carny calls, easily visualizing the bright colors of the lights on that Ferris wheel, tasting the bubblegum sweetness of the cotton candy on their tongue, feeling the warmth of the summer night breeze. But there’s a bottom line question you have to ask with every page, paragraph, sentence that you write. Am I moving the story forward? And this scene, although as yummy as a Junior Mint, does not.

Every scene you put into your book, every line of dialogue you put in your characters’ mouths, your reader will take note of, whether consciously or unconsciously. They will wonder, Hmm, something important is going to happen at this carnival. I’d better pay attention. But when it turns out that scene had nothing to do with anything, that it was the empty-calories-equivalent of a Junior Mint, they’re going to be annoyed. Why did you make them read something that doesn’t move the story forward?

So think about every scene you write and if you figure out it’s not advancing the story, cut it out of your “diet.” You can’t afford those empty calories.

But go ahead and have a Junior Mint.

About karensandler

Lover of chocolate. A couple felines short of full-fledged Cat Lady. Author of the YA Tankborn Trilogy (TANKBORN, AWAKENING, and REBELLION), from Tu Books. Founding team member of We Need Diverse Books. Opinions expressed here are my own.
This entry was posted in Books, Old Memories, Strongly Held Beliefs, The Writing Life, Writing Craft and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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