Cutting Scenes from a Screenplay

Posted by Martha Alderson, M.A. on

Reader Alexa Adams from Milford, CT asks My scene count is making my screenplay too long, but I can't see cutting any of the scenes I've written. What should I do?

Expert Martha Alderson replies.

The job of a good writer is to know which scenes to cut and which ones to keep. You, as a writer, needed to write each and every one of those scenes to better understand the characters. A movie-goer or reader needs only scenes that work on a multitude of levels at once.


1) Write your project all the way through each draft. If you continually go back to the beginning, you will find the earlier scenes harder to cut because of all the time and work you have devoted to them.

2) Track your scenes using the Scene Tracker Template or some other technique that shows you which scenes provide all seven essential elements (See my article Create Scenes that Sizzle - 7 Essential Elements) at once. The harder your scenes work, the greater the weight they carry and the more they probably belong in the project.

3) Plot out your scenes on a Plot Planner or by using some other technique. Being able to see which scenes are episodic and which ones flow through cause and effect improves your ability to know which ones to cut and which ones to keep. A scene that has been foreshadowed in an earlier scene or one that grows from the proceeding scene becomes an essential piece of the overall picture that emerges.

4) While you plot out your scenes, look to see if the stakes in each scene rise in intensity one step at time. Chances are that the scenes that do not carry more conflict, tension and suspense than the one that came before may need to be cut.

5) A good writer knows that in order for a certain passage or sentence or character or plot turn to be in a story is not because of the beauty of the writing or the cleverness in the plotting or the depth of the characters, although these things are important in order to captivate the reader. A good writer knows that each line and each element in each scene belongs there because it has a definite purpose in the overall scheme of things.

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