Sometimes, you write a book that seems awesome at the time, but turns out to have problems that can’t be fixed in revisions—even big revisions. Maybe you tried to do something with it, and things just didn’t work out, so you trunked it for a while, and now you’ve pulled it out with a brilliant idea for how to reshape it into something awesome.
My latest project has been a massive rewrite of something I wrote a couple years ago. I kept only the skeleton—the setting and a handful of characters—and completely tore out the guts, replacing them entirely. However, there were a couple of scenes from the original that I thought/hoped could be repurposed.
This can happen in revisions, too. You have a scene you just adore. It is a perfect, beautifully written scene. But there’s a problem: the story doesn’t need it. It might be great all alone, but when you shove it in with the rest, it’s made less perfect by its purposelessness. Sometimes it’s hard to see that you've done this. I had a scene last through multiple revisions, until one beta said, “Not sure enough happens in this chapter.” It was a scene that had worked really well in the original version of the story, and one that I had loved, but when I went to figure out what more should happen in the scene, I realized that in this version, maybe the scene just shouldn’t happen at all. It was still cute, but it did nothing for the story.
Rewriting is a big undertaking. Sometimes you get tired, and you think, well, there was some good stuff in that last version! Maybe I should just look through and see what I can use…
And that’s fine. Sometimes there are good scenes you left behind. But when you decide to paste in one of your darlings and smooth it to fit the rest of your rewritten version, make sure it really does fit. Does it move the story forward in some way? (It should.) Did you have to come up with some crazy convoluted subplot to make the scene necessary? (You shouldn’t.) When you read through the finished product with the scene in place, does it flow nicely, or does something about it feel wrong?
It’s really easy to let those darling scenes sneak in and try to ruin your story. Scenes can be even sneakier than those darling sentences you know you should cut when revising and sometimes don't. They're so big, cutting them feels daunting. But don't be afraid to take out those scissors and make a bloodbath of your manuscript--I promise, it will thank you later.