I've had a lot of experience now deleting scenes. It started when I needed to chop 20K from Walk Beside Me. That ended up being about 60 pages! At first, it was really hard for me. I cut out some of the scenes that I thought were necessary, some of the extra POVs, and some scenes that didn't flow quite right.
And then I wondered why that was so hard. I'd always thought those scenes didn't flow quite right. Somehow, I couldn't bring myself to hit that delete button. Well, let me tell you, after that I became quite delete happy. I cut and cut and cut. And the result was fantastic! The story is tighter, more action-packed, extremely relevant.
Now as I attack Branca, I find it not even painful. If I don't love it, I fix it or cut it. No reason to hold onto anything less-than-perfect.
So how do I know what to cut? Here's what I've looked for.
Is it realistic?
This was a big problem for me in Walk Beside Me, mostly b/c I wrote this book when I was 13. To my teenage mind, some of the things the girls did were perfectly logical. And who knows, maybe they were, b/c the girls at the time were also aged 13. But as an adult, I couldn't relate to kids who would act so irresponsibly. I changed the ages to 15 and matured their actions. All of the sudden, a lot of the scenes I'd included as a child no longer fit. They simply weren't realistic.
Does the story really need it?
Sometimes I'd write a scene, maybe even an entire chapter, with some exciting event, something to keep the suspense up in the story. The odd thing was, it really wasn't relevant to the plot. If I cut out the entire adventure, the entire chapter, it had absolutely no impact to the rest of my story.
Granted, many scenes we write can be cut out and the story can continue. But some of the scenes we write really do add to the quality of the story. Others drain it. If you're not sure...ask a reader. They'll tell you!
Do I need this character's POV?
As I've stated before, one of my biggest problems was trying to tell the story from everyone's POV. These were some of the hardest scenes to cut, because I wanted to tell the story from that POV. Sometimes I could bring out the relevant information by using another character who was present, showing the incident from that POV. Other times, though, there was no alternative POV to use. These scenes were hard to delete. But it needed to be done for the consistency of the story. I miss those POVs. But the overall quality of the story is better. It felt like a plot gimmick to throw in a different POV for only one scene in the entire book.
Do I enjoy reading it?
You would think this would be obvious, but to me it wasn't. Sometimes I'd write a scene and it wouldn't sit well with me. Everytime I'd read it I'd get that uneasy feeling in my stomach. But I'd think to myself, "It's just me because I wrote it. Nobody else will think this." Ha! Well, guess what! They notice it even more than you! When I realized my critiquers were pointing out the very scenes that I felt uncertain about, I realized I didn't always need to ask. If I didn't like it, the reader wouldn't either. This has been so helpful to me and allowed me to cut without even feeling guilty!
One other thing that helps me as I'm cutting is to save my deleted scenes. I have two files, one for each novel. Each is called "Deleted Scenes." I like to think of it as in the movies: some scenes have to be cut. When you watch the deleted scenes on a movie, you can often tell why it was cut. Yet it's still fun to watch. Maybe someday I'll release a 'director's cut' of my books! Then again, I might recycle the scenes into other books!