As you begin a novel, you may have an idea where you're going, but you probably don't know the exact route you'll take to get there. I've written three complete novels, and in only one of them did I (loosely) adhere to an outline. I've found that plot lines often take on a life of their own, and when that happens it's best to follow them to see what happens.
This freewheeling approach can work well, but not always, and sometimes it can lead you to a dead end. If that happens, you may end up with entire scenes that you need to cut. Ouch. No author likes to cut precious words, much less entire scenes, but if they don't fit, they don't fit.
My advice is this: if you like a scene but don't see a place for it now, cut and paste it into a new document. You never know where part or even that entire scene may come in handy, either later in the book or in a separate book entirely.
This happened in my most recent novel. I wanted to write a scene where a character visits a particular city, and I remembered that I'd once started a novel (never got very far) in which a character did just that. I looked the old scene up on my computer and was able to plop it right into my new book. Of course I had to massage it a bit to fit the new characters and storyline, but the visual descriptions saved me a lot of time. Plus, using the older material made me feel like that abandoned novel wasn't a complete waste of time after all!
Maria Murnane is the award-winning author of the romantic comedies Perfect on Paper and It's a Waverly Life. Her third novel, Honey on Your Mind, will be released in July 2012. She also provides consulting services on book publishing and marketing. Learn more at www.mariamurnane.com.
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