Too long, needed to more quickly get to the point, didn't add to the story, wasn't enough of a comeuppance for the bad girl... The comments by the director about the deleted scenes for the movie The Princess Diaries (2001) are valuable reminders for editing our own stories. (Watch them on the DVD.) As I did, you'll probably find yourself agreeing, yes, that scene wasn't necessary. Or, yes, it's a stronger story without this one. The director even cut some of his favorite scenes to make a better movie.
Enabling us to produce better manuscripts is why critique groups exist. Watching the director commentary was almost like getting a bird's eye view of a critique from start to finish: the pre-critiqued version and the tightened, more focused version. For me, it gave me additional tools for looking at scenes in my own fiction. I learned these questions*:
• Does this add to the story?
• Does this get the emotional reaction I want?
• Am I getting to the main point here?
• Will the reader care about this?
• How does this make my main character appear?
• Is my antagonist getting what he deserves?
• Is this the right time for this relationship/problem to be resolved?
I shouldn't just ask these questions of myself, but ask my critique group to respond, too.
Does this mean I might have to cut a scene I like? Yes. Does this mean I'll have to do rewriting and reordering? Yes. Will it be worth it? YES! If my story goes out to an editor stronger, clearer, better focused, my odds of acceptance are increased.
*Variants of these questions may also be useful when critiquing others.
• What is the emotional reaction you want from this scene?
• Your main character seems rather useless here, is that what you want me to think?
• Do you think your villain is getting what he deserves here?
• Should these characters be getting along so well in this scene?
In addition to being more thought provoking, critique questions can also make a nice variation from "too long," "need to get to the point more quickly," etc. statements.
Got any other movie examples that help remind us what to edit in our own stories? Feel free to share them here.