It is my firm contention that an author should ask himself the question posed in the title of this post for every scene.
I know I’ve expressed the same sentiment before on this blog, and I probably will do so again because I think it’s the second most important piece of advice I can give you. However, I have a different end purpose in mind for telling it to you this time.
Usually, the subtext to the comment is that, if you can’t answer the question, you should delete the scene. On this occasion, the point is that answering the question can make the scene better.
In the most recent chapter of Power of the Mages that I’m editing, I got a bunch of beta reader comments that suggested alternative things that could happen instead of what I wrote. My takeaway — “These scenes are so incredibly boring that I spent my mental effort trying to find kernels that might provide interest in order to distract me for the mind-numbing prose.”
Boring. Got it.
Long time readers of this blog will instantly know how to fix boring — add tension and add emotion.
While doing just those two things made up a part of my troubleshooting strategy, these scenes required some extra TLC. The root cause of them being boring was that they did not fulfill the story need that justified their existence.
Simply put, it felt like the scenes didn’t belong because they served no purpose.
Easy fix again, right? Just delete them.
In this case, no. The problem wasn’t that they’re not needed; the problem was that the idiot author (me) hadn’t written the scenes to make them fulfill their respective objectives. By tightening the focus to emphasize fulfillment of the scene goals, I was able to make the scenes feel like part of the whole instead of boring outliers.