Revision, Word Count, and Plot Development

Advice From a Literary Agent

In revising my manuscript, I want to cut the word count down to size.

I got some advice from New Leaf Literary when I asked a question on their Tumblr (I believe the answering agent is Suzie Townsend, but don’t quote me on that.)

Oh look! A convenient snapshot:



My essential question was: Can I add more if I know I should be reducing word count?

Her answer gives me this answer: Add more if you feel you need it. Make sure the story makes sense. Then, after you feel that you have what is necessary, go look at each scene in the book.

Is each scene doing the work it should be?


Interpreting the Answer

She said each scene must do the following:

  • Plot Advancement
  • Character Development
  • World Development

So, with this trinity of Plot, Character, World in hand, I started looking at the scenes.

Scenes I felt most tempted to cut were missing plot development. Sure, that scene where they banter and fight is cute and develops character, but it isn’t advancing the plot or world at all. Should I cut it? Sort of.


Let’s talk about how exactly the PCW trio plays into revising. Do you need all three in every scene? The Agents advice was that it should advance plot while developing character/worldbuilding. This indicates that Plot is the big kahuna.

  1. Ideally, a scene has all 3 elements.
  2. When looking at each scene for value, it needs at least 2/3 of the PCW trio.
  3. 1 of those NEEDS to be PLOT. If nothing is happening in the story, not even banter can save it.
  4. Add in any missing elements. If a scene is missing worldbuilding or character development, then it might be as easy as tweaking some dialogue or adding some setting.
  5. If a scene is missing plot, it’s dead.


What To Do If A Scene Lacks Plot Development

What happens to that cute scene where they characters are bantering? Should it be sliced out of the story like the mold on cheese? To be honest, though, I normally just throw it all away if I see mold. But DON’T DO THAT TO YOUR STORY!

Sometimes we see issues in our stories and we think the entire work is flawed. Don’t let imperfections delude you into thinking what you have created is imperfect. A bit of hard work, and you can polish it to a shine!

So, about that scene!

It’s missing plot, which is a HUGE red flag. The questions/solutions you want to address are these:

1. Is it really missing plot, or is it just not a chase scene?

  • In my stories at least, I tend to forget that people don’t need to be running for the plot to move forward.
  • Question to determine if is plot = Are your characters making decisions that effect change?
  • If your characters are evolving and the story is evolving, then keep it!

2. Delete the scene and move the good stuff. Can you save the cute banter by moving the exchange you like to a plot-based scene?

  • If you really like a scene, you shouldn’t just delete it. Take what you love about it and incorporate it somewhere else in your story.
  • Or if that won’t work, set it aside in an “outtakes” file so you can find it and use it later or in a different story entirely!

3. Keep the scene and add plot. If you’re not struggling with word count, try adding in some plot-based decision-making dialogue or actions. Maybe your scene just needs a bit of fleshing out to reach its potential.


Did I Answer My Original Question?

My original question was whether I can add a scene when I should be focusing on what I need to remove. The answer is YES. The scene I want to add is necessary for plot, and plot is god.

I got wrapped up in the idea of cutting word count to the point that I was stopping myself from making sure the story’s plot made sense. What I need to do is look at the other scenes to see if they’re doing as much work as they should be.

The solution is to add all the scenes I think are needed. Then, when the story feels complete, work on narrowing down word count by eliminating unneeded, unproductive scenes and combining fractionally deficient scenes.


How about you? Have you ever gotten caught in the revision stage with a question of word count?

Do you find it difficult to cut scenes during revision?

What happens when you look at each scene individually?


6 thoughts on “Revision, Word Count, and Plot Development

  1. Pingback: Plot is the Life of Your Story | words — and other things
  2. Thank you for sharing an excellent post. I have struggled with this question of what to cut and why. This idea of plot, character, and world development is very useful.

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