When I was working to tighten my manuscript, I scoured books and online sources for the best tips, then found a way to make it all easy. I developed a quick acronym, based on some of Holly Lisle’s principals, called ACCPT.
I’d accept that a scene (probably) had a place in my story if it offered:
C: Character Development
P: Progressive Elements (moving the story forward)
T: Thematic Elements
Lisle’s one-pass manuscript revision is more complex, and worth digesting, but the ease and memorability of ACCPT worked for me.
Another valuable tip came from Robert McKee’s STORY: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting:
For a typical film, the writer will choose forty to sixty Story Events or, as they’re commonly known, scenes. A novelist may want more than sixty, a playwright rarely as many as forty.
A SCENE is an action through conflict in more or less continuous time and space that turns the value-charged condition of a character’s life on at least one value with a degree of perceptible significance. Ideally, every scene is a STORY EVENT.
Look closely at each scene you’ve written and ask: What value is at stake in my character’s life at this moment? Love? Truth? What? How is that value charged at the top of the scene? Positive? Negative? Some of both? Next turn to the close of the scene and ask, Where is this value now? Positive? Negative? Both? Make a note and compare. If the answer you write down at the end of the scene is the same note you made at the opening, you now have another important question to ask: Why is this scene in my script?
There are probably hundreds of techniques you might use to decide if a scene is working for your story. Which do you use and why?