Before we get started, let me warn you this is a spoiler-heavy post discussing the following adaptions (in no particular order):
My Sister’s Keeper
Pride and Prejudice (1995)
In a previous post discussing Overwriters and Underwriters, I touched briefly on the removal of extraneous scenes in the editing process. However, I don’t think I went as deeply as I could have on that subject. That’s why this week, I’m taking the time to share one of the methods I’ll use when determining whether or not a scene deserves to stay or needs to be killed off like the darling it is. I call it The Cutting Room Floor Philosophy. In film, the cutting room floor refers to footage that was not included in the finished product. Deleted scenes. For some writers including myself, it can be fun to imagine our WIPs being adapted for film, from which actors we would cast to what the soundtrack would be like (if you’ve been around the blog enough, you know my vision for Guises to Keep includes Toby Regbo being cast as James). Often, this can be a great way to help expand on the narrative, the descriptions of our characters, and the portrayal of a scene. Not only does envisioning the adaption help with creating the story, it can help cut it down. In what has become one of if not the most popular posts on this blog, I chronicled my thoughts as I read Stephenie Meyer’s novel Twilight for the first time. After reading that article, my critique partner mentioned she had also started reading it and we talked a bit about how much seemed to have been removed from the film adaption. With book-to-film adaptions, there is an amount of pressure placed on the creative team to do justice to the source material, especially when the fanbase is as devoted as that of Twilight is/was. However, there is a time limit that cannot always accommodate absolutely everything, resulting in fan-favorite scenes are left on the cutting room floor. This may be due to time constraints. You may know this about me already, but I had a massive crush on Zac Efron back in the day. When I heard he had been cast as Logan in the adaption of The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks, you better believe I pored through it. My favorite moment by far was the restaurant date night between Logan and Beth and reading about them dancing to The Temptations. Guess what didn’t make it into the film. I get why this was left out, as it didn’t serve as great a purpose in moving the plot forwards, but I remember being disappointed by it. In other cases, it can be based on the reach a film might have and the future of the series. In Catching Fire, for example, two characters that play a reasonably significant role in the novel are omitted from the adaption. In the novel, Katniss meets Bonnie and Twill, who escaped from District Eight in the middle of the uprising. The pair inform her about District 13, which at that point is presumed to have been decimated prior to the beginning of The Hunger Games. According to Twill, several rebels in District 8 noticed the Capitol resued some footage of District 13, leading them to hope it was still around. Bonnie and Twill are not included in the Catching Fire adaption. As explained in both characters’ Fandom wikipages, “the filmmakers did not want to spoil the ending of the movie and the plot of Mockingjay for those who hadn’t read the books.” Things may also be adjusted to secure a certain rating, like sex scenes, language, or the depiction of violence or other gruesome moments. Some changes may go over well, like George Warleggan appearing much earlier in the newer BBC Poldark series than he does in the novels by Winston Graham and the exclusion of the infamous sewer orgy in It that is honestly more concerning than It itself, and others might not, such as the absence of Uriah in the first Divergent film. One outstanding example of the latter that comes to mind is My Sister’s Keeper. My Sister’s Keeper, written by Jodi Picoult, is about a girl named Anna who sues her parents for emancipation after having been born to act as a “savior sibling” for her ailing elder sister, Kate. This petition is sparked by the hope of Anna donating her kidney to Kate in a risky surgery, which she wishes to refuse. The novel ends with Anna being killed in a car accident and her kidney being donated to Kate. In the film, however, Kate dies, which impacted the overall messages about the frailty and unpredictable nature of life itself—and subsequently upset a lot of viewers who had read the book beforehand. Then there are also examples of minor, seemingly insignificant changes that can set off an entire fanbase. EG: “Harry, did you put your name in the Goblet of Fire?” When asked, I tend to say I would prefer to have Guises to Keep be adapted as a mini-series in the style of the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice adaption. In part because of its length (180K+ words is really hard to cut down to two hours while still managing to capture the entirety of the work), but also because of how they portrayed the Regency so well and how they stuck to the original source material. For the most part. We all know that scene of Colin Firth’s swan dive into the lake (okay, technically his stunt double’s swan dive into the lake). That wasn’t in the book. Nor were a lot of the Darcy scenes, such as that fencing sequence I love. These scenes and others were intended to give Darcy a larger role in the plot and to explore his character further (and, you know, seeing Colin Firth in the Regency Era equivalent of a one-man wet T-shirt contest is also enjoyable). So how does this apply to writing novels? Among the first things writers are told upon entering the editing phase is to cut any unnecessary scenes or characters. It can sometimes be difficult to determine what is important to keep and what needs to be removed. One way I’ll approach this is to imagine myself working on the film adaption of my WIP. Considering what content might be removed expanded on in that medium can be a guide as to what scenes are worthy of making the final cut. This is especially true for smaller scenes. In the case of my own books, this often comes in the form of character development and exploring the relationships they have with the people around them, or it might be a way of exploring the historical setting. For these reasons, I feel inclined to keep them. But in trying on a different hat and stepping into the role of a film director or editor, I’m able to take a step back from the project and view it in a different and more objective light, which in turn can make these cuts a little more manageable.
Is this something the guys over at Cinemasins would ding with a “Skip!” or “Movie Has Time For This” or “This goes on for some time” or “No one will be seated during the [insert specifics] scene” sin? Cut it.
Is this information about a character’s backstory absolutely essential to understanding them? If not, do away with it.
Does the reader need to know these details in order to understand what is happening? If not, it’s gone.
Is there something that could be added to enhance the audience’s enjoyment or better yet help raise the stakes or further develop a character? Explore that and test it out.
The cuts and changes named above and others may also be dependant on other factors, such as genre. A work of sci-fi or fantasy has a little more wiggle room when it comes to worldbuilding than something like a contemporary rom-com. As with many things about writing, what is cut in edits is up to you, but shifting gears like this can be helpful when it comes to what is put on the chopping block and is left on the cutting room floor.