Cutting room floor: The Difficult Scene


“It’s a great rolling storm-tossed scene… like an ocean. Or a rumpled bed.” –Me, while writing it

Everything I write comes paired with a file that I title “Excised Scenes”. This is where I dump all the bits and pieces that didn’t work as first written. Most of the scenes in my book come easily and are good to go with a reasonable amount of editing; some others I write over and over and over again.

The Promises to Keep scene in which Anna confronts Alex about Ruth’s accusation was such a scene. I worked so hard on it that I began to call it The Difficult Scene. Scenes like this usually turn out to be difficult because I am trying to say everything in them. They’re almost always resolved by cutting a lot out.

This particular scene was also not working because at the time, I intended for Alex to be innocent of the crime. Ruth was supposed to spiral into bitterness and eventual “black magic”. As soon as I realized what had really happened, things straightened themselves out.

Anyway, here is text from an early version of that scene which makes some points about Robert’s character which just didn’t fit anywhere, but which I think were interesting and apt. You’ll recognize the third paragraph, which remained in the finished scene. I have included it to orient you in the text.

I wondered now if, here in the woods where we’d come to be closer to people, things had gotten too close. When Robert was alive, he had stood as a shield between all of us. He had understood Ruth’s reckless need for love and protection, and absorbed it from the one side. From the other he had worked a repetition magic of his own, symbolically fighting Alex back, and in doing so assured all of them that boundaries were in place and wouldn’t be crossed.

I had been the silent fourth, protected by both men without knowing it. I alone hadn’t understood. Alex had understood what was going on, after he had told Ruth too much, if not before. He had said to me himself that, with Robert dead, he wouldn’t go into the woods with her anymore. He had sought to prevent her from making exactly the mistake she had managed to make anyway.

But had something happened on the night of the raid? The question wasn’t answered. Because he didn’t have an unbroken memory, it was theoretically possible something had. It was possible that at the time, she had known he was out of his mind and let it pass, unremarked, beneath the shadows of other tragedies. It was possible she had propositioned him in the hopes of wiping out the violent memory, and used contamination magic as an excuse.

But was any of that more likely than her accusation being an odious attempt to hurt Alex and me? Alex because he’d refused her; me, I supposed, because of the bad advice I had given which had led to Robert’s death.


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