|Vicki Essex, K9, and the TARDIS|
Following my newly formed love of Doctor Who, I’ve been watching the special features on the DVDs and learning a lot from head writer Russell T. Davies’s commentary about why certain scenes were cut.
TV and novel writing have plenty in common, so I thought I’d share what I learned—spoiler free!
Reasons to cut scenes
- Time/word count: It’s always best to find the simplest and most direct way to explain things. Use as few words/scenes/analogies/characters/imagery as possible to get things across. This sounds like the simplest reason, but the decision to shave off a few seconds (or words, in book terms) must take into consideration most of the below reasons.
- Pacing: Sudden pauses for deep contemplation during action scenes? Internal monologues that gum up emotional moments? Magical plot devices that detract from a tearful goodbye? Take ‘em out! You want to keep the readers/viewers in the moment without stalling the momentum of the action or story.
- Appropriateness: Does the scene/dialog/moment fit with the rest of the book/episode’s tone/theme/plot? Does it tend toward literary when the rest of the work is fun and lighthearted? Are there too many incongruities that make your dramatic work sound comical? Sorry, but this may be one of those “kill your darlings” moments.
- Overexplanation/Beating the Dead Horse: While we all like to torture our characters, there are times when you can overdo it. Likewise with any extra information that simply reexplains a situation or tries to overemphasize a character’s emotional state. At a certain point, it can get ridiculous.
- Repetition: Repetition is not required to achieve emphasis. And a reader/viewer will get tired and roll their eyes at your supposed “cleverness” if you try to draw too many parallels in your work.
- Irrelevance: A lot of scenes involving one set of circumstances can be shaved down or cut altogether once a key moment can be removed without affecting the whole piece.
Other things I learned from Russell T. Davies:
Get second (and third and fourth) opinions: In the commentary, Davies frequently emphasizes how the final cuts were made as a team, and not by one single person. Davies worked with the other writers, directors and producers to produce leaner, meaner episodes. Working with beta readers and editors gives you a different point of view on every little aspect of your story. Don’t ignore those voices. To quote the Twelfth Doctor: Listen.
Kill your darlings: In Doctor Who, there were some major scenes from certain episodes that were left on the cutting room floor based on one or more of the above reasons. Even if the cut scenes were beautifully written, or completely cut out particular guest actors’ appearances, or left out enormous plot points, the team always made the decision for the good of the episode and not one single person’s ego.
It’s a good thing DVD special features exist to preserve these golden fandom moments!
Ever watch cut scenes from your favorite TV shows or movies? Did you agree or disagree with the cut? Have you ever torn out your hair over something major that was left out? Comment below!