We all have read the passage that afterwards we’re left scratching our heads going, “Why do I care?” It didn’t tell us anything new about the character. It didn’t give us new insight into the plot. Nothing we didn’t already realize was revealed about the setting. Ultimately the entire point of the scene was to give a few thousand more words to the word count. Maybe it’s only two or three paragraphs of fluff that did nothing for us. What is the point of these writing moments?
There isn’t one. It is meaningless fluff that is just to make a book longer and it should be cut down alike a character overstaying their welcome. I would use examples, but I would feel horribly guilty of pointing a finger at an author I truly think is talented and you all have your personal favorites anyway.
I urge you to make sure everything is with purpose and that anything which is only there to elongate your word count is slashed out. Think of it as an appendix which has already exploded in your novel and it’s just festering. As a surgeon, cut it out and move on. Here is my suggestion on how to do this, though ultimately we all have our own way.
Look into your scenes. Did you reveal something about the story that hadn’t been before, or are you cementing a truth that the readers are coming so close to realizing? Perhaps there’s a picture on a desk, but half of the photo is ripped out. The character asks why, but the scene consists of the boss trying to change the subject, focusing on a more mundane piece of information we already knew. Have some mystery or truth shown in your scenes so that the reader feels involved, like they are trying to figure out a mystery of some sort, or trying to predict what will happen. It makes the reader involved.
Was there an event which didn’t happen as expected, and now the main character is challenged to overcome a phobia? This would allow us to see where the character is as far as his flaws and if he is overcoming them. In this case, really any characterization is great. We might find the depravities of the bad guy, find out the hero isn’t amazing, learn that the sidekick has a dark secret, and so on. Make sure we learn something about a character and that if there is a challenge, it is unique to them. There may be a few mundane events throughout a scene, but make the meat of it important.
Did the scene show there are poisonous frogs in the swamp which gave off a sweet taste, luring in prey? Now we know of a danger that could play into the future. When we learn about the setting, we can look to the future or even the present as to what’s happening. When you see a military camp, or that there are countless mercenaries in a region, we have a very different feel of the direction of the story than if we see an idyllic village full of artists and happy, fat villagers.
Find a book you love. Read through it. Dissect every scene for what it told us and what it revealed. Even a chase should reveal something other than our protagonist nearly died. It could reveal the setting (or utilize setting which had already been revealed previously), show the abilities or thoughts of the protagonist, or make it more obvious the villain really does have an incredible amount of resources at his disposal. However, by the third chase scene we get it and it’s just boring.
Once you’ve done that, analyze your own writing. If you’re in the works, look at each scene and mark down why you need that scene. What has it shown and what did it do for the book? Do this for characters and settings as well. I’ve had characters fuse because I just didn’t need the extra character and the two were pretty much playing the same role.
So get to work and cut out the fat! Make your novel lean and mean and it’ll attract more readers, be more concise, and just be a cleaner and easier to read story over all.