I’m working on the assumption here that somebody out there is interested in this wonky stuff. If you’re not, feel free to skip. There’s math in this post.
So the Breakfast Scene at the end of the second mini-act was 3,524 words, and it needed to be a lot less. I don’t like scenes that are over 2500, even transition scenes like this one, so that was my upper limit. I ended up at 2560, so pretty good but still more cuts to come on the paper edit. Here’s how I did it.
I already had a decent structure:
Beat 1: Nita questions Nick about Joey. Daphne shows her displeasure; eggs and bacon become a distraction and show Nick’s changing.
Transition: The Mayor shows up, and Nita protects Nick, something she wouldn’t have done at the beginning of the scene..
Beat 2: Nita snags on Nick’s information about missing people and they begin to pool information while Nick develops a taste for French toast.
Transition: Mort shows up, and Nita and Nick remain focused on each other, something neither of them would have done at the beginning of the scene.
Beat 3: Nita wants more info on doughnuts, Nick wants more info on the demon who tried to kill Nita.
Climax: Nita has to go to work. TERRIBLE Climax/Transition out, must rewrite.
I’m good with the general focus of the scene: they’re both investigating and they give each other info and they’re less hostile at the end. So all I have to do it cut it and fix that climax. I wanted a benchmark under 2500 words, give or take a couple hundred words either way, so I blocked it out as 1000/800/600. What I actually have is 1348/971/1205. That’s a lot of cutting, so I split the scene into three different documents because 1348 words are easier to focus than 3,524.
Then I just revised each beat. They’re all Nita vs. Nick, and the conflict is always Nita suspecting Nick, and Nick being honest but hard to believe. The escalation is that with each beat, Nita becomes more receptive, in part because he’s helpful and logical; and in part because they’re sharing breakfast. And with each beat, he edges closer to being a Real Live Boy. Not close yet, he’s not going to get there until the point of no return in the book, but it’s clear the transition is starting.
Romance writing tip: Sharing food is part of the universal courtship ritual, and I do mean ritual. Animals do it, insects do, even educated fleas do it. It’s the reason the modern equivalent of “Let me get to know you first” is going for coffee, not meeting for dinner, and the reason men who are interested in women are uncomfortable with going Dutch. So at the end when Nick says, “I’ll pay,” it’s not about the money, and Nita letting him is not completely because he ate half of her breakfast; it’s a very small step toward their relationship. Which is why the food talk stays even though it would seem as though it should be the first stuff to cut.
So what can go? Oddly enough, most of the investigation stuff because the reader already knows it. The meat in this scene (besides the bacon) is the way Nick begins to fit into Nita’s world, epitomized by the diner, and the way their mutual goals begin to forge a working relationship. That wasn’t going to solve my big problem, the last beat that was 1205 words and needed to be about 600. The only way to do that is to start cutting out paragraphs, and for that scene, the only big thing was the Button stuff, so that went. (It’s in another file, I’ll get it in in Act Two.) At the end of my cuts I had 1012/816/722 (aiming for 1000/800/600) for a total of 2560. That’s still long, but I can get rid of more in the paper edit, so I’m good with that for now.
Then came the next mini-act which was 14000 words and needed to be half that. Argh.