I recently encountered that dilemma while writing the fanfiction version of my Undertale webcomic, Just Cause.
Since the earlier timelines follow Frisk's first few journeys through the Underground, it's natural that many of the scenes from the game would appear in those timelines. But that presents me with two challenges:
1. Making sure that those necessary scenes aren't simply a rehashing of material that people have already seen.
2. Determining how much of the journey to cover, and what can and should be skipped.
I suspect I'm not the only one who's encountered this challenge, so today, I'm going to share the criteria I use to determine whether to add a scene or skip over it.
Criteria #1: Is it necessary for the characters' development?
Some of the scenes - and, more importantly, the protagonist's reactions to the events in them - are necessary for the reader to understand how the tragic situation in Timeline 4 came to be.
They develop the characters' personalities and relationships, and they reveal why the human made the decisions they made and how they felt when they were making them.
Even though some of these scenes are partly reenactments of things that happen in the game, the internal reactions add a new layer to them, and lay the foundation for the less strictly canonical events that occur in later timelines.
Speaking of new layers...
Criteria #2: Can you add a fresh twist or insight?
Even if a scene isn't absolutely vital to a character arc, it can be worth including if you can add something new and interesting to it.
Is there a funny addition you want to slip into the dialogue? An intriguing internal reaction, or inner monologue that gives new meaning to the words that were spoken out loud?
If you can add an extra element to the scene, that new ingredient can make it fresh and interesting even for the people who have consumed the source material several times.
In fact, that strategy can even make the scene MORE appealing to that particular crowd. If someone loves a story enough to go through it repeatedly, they probably love it enough that any fresh insight or deeper exploration will be welcome, as long as it's done well.
Personally, I've kept a lot of the canonical dialogue intact, but I've also taken a fair bit of license to let Frisk have reactions that Undertale's silent protagonist doesn't canonically have, and to let the other characters react to it the way I think they would.
This helps to keep the plot on track, while adding something new instead of simply reiterating what's already been said.
Criteria #3: Does it make later scenes more poignant?
Just Cause contains a number of running themes, catchphrases, and callbacks to earlier scenes, as well as bits of dialogue later in the story that reference earlier conversations and interactions.
Sometimes, a scene early in the story, while added partly for its own sake, has its greatest value in the way it sets things up for a later scene to be five times more poignant than it would be on its own.
I don't know about you, but personally, I love it when a story can take a line or element from earlier in the tale and work it into a later scene, in a way that adds new meaning, continuity, or a sense that this running joke or catchphrase is one of the strings that ties a character's personality or relationships together.
What if the scene needs to be included or addressed, but you don't feel like writing the whole thing?
Sometimes, there are scenes that are necessary to move the plot from Point A to Point B, but you just don't feel like thoroughly retreading that ground.
Maybe you have nothing new to add, or maybe that scene simply isn't interesting enough to warrant inclusion.
In that case, one tactic I sometimes use is to have a character reflect on it later, possibly while walking or getting distracted from an activity they ought to be focusing on.
This allows me to delve further into the character's reaction to the event, without having to bog down the narrative with a blow-by-blow description of a scene that didn't deserve to stay in the final draft.
Have you encountered this question in your writing?
While fanfiction does present this challenge more frequently than most other stories, it's not the only place where this dilemma rears its head. Every fiction writer must sometimes face the question of whether or not to include a scene, and I hope this article made the decision easier for you.
And now, it's your turn to share your thoughts!
What methods or criteria do you use to decide which scenes to include?
Are there any types of scenes that definitely should or should NOT be kept in stories?
I look forward to reading your comments!