Minor cuts in a scene–taking out adjectives and adverbs, getting rid of unnecessary clauses, lopping off some “said”s–can just be done on a read through. But if I need to really hack a scene down, I have to do the scene level process of scene sequences: I have to break the scene down into beats.
So here are the beats of the first scene of Nita before the newest cuts (Nita vs. Button, 2649 words).
Beat One: Nita tries to sober up, Button asks her why they’re there. Establishes that they don’t know each other, where they are, and that Button is antagonistic. Nita tries to get out of the car and Button says, “Wait” and Nita waits. (492 words)
Beat Two: Button explains her concerns to Nita who tries to get out of the car. Button says, “Wait” and Nita says “No.” Nita takes back the power in the conversation. (421)
Beat Three: Frank shows up because Nita opened the door, and Button asks Frank to go get Mort. Mort explains the problem. Infodump, bleah. (488)
Beat Four: Franks rats them out and Jason gets in the car. Conflict between Nita and Jason, not Nita and Button, more info dump, bleah. (855)
Beat Five: Nita turfs out Jason, opens door to go to bar, Button says “Wait, I’ll go with you.” (390)
Since this scene is Nita vs. Button, obviously the problems are in the third and fourth beats. I’m okay with the wait/wait/disruption/disruption/wait progression as long as it’s clear that the point of the disruptions is that they’re creating more problems in the Nita vs Button conflict, but not that damn long. (Yes, I know many of you told me to cut the Jason section. You. were right. Happy now? ARGH.)
I can scale the Mort beat back to around 400 probably, but then the Jason beat is going to need a real hacking since it should be less than 400 (based on the idea that narrative units get shorter as you go toward the climax, which in this scene is. Button saying, “Wait, I’ll go with you.” Yes, there’s that “go to hell, Nita Dodd” bit at the end, but that bookends the climax of the whole story when Nita goes to Hell, so it stays.)
See? Easy. (Clunks head on desk.)
Update: Beats One, Two, Three, and Five are pretty lean already. I cut some words, but obviously the place to slash is Beat Four. I got Beat Four to 462, down from 855 words, which isn’t bad, although another 62 words down would be good. And the scene is 2225 overall down from 2646, so that’s something. I think 2000 word scenes from Nita and then Nick is a good place to start before they meet, just enough. to set up anticipation without slowing things down. And Nick’s scene is already 2064, so that’s good. I think. Argh.