Tag Archive for Behind the Scenes

Deleted Scenes 2: Six Innings

When revising Six Innings, I eliminated about 25% from the first draft (for more on that topic, click here). One of the plot lines that got axed involved Alex Lionni’s relationship with his father, a man utterly disinterested in sports who gets involved as an assistant coach after his divorce.

During this editorial stage, we generally minimized the role of adult characters. There was another scene when Mr. Lionni called Coach Jeff Reid and, despite his woeful lack of baseball knowledge, asked to help with the team. He was a man in pain, looking for some way to connect with his son. But, but, but.

As writers and editors, we often wrestle with the issue of balance, fiction’s inverse relationship of “pace” and “depth.” It’s a push-pull situation: pace/depth; plot/character. To move fast, you have to travel light; but if there’s not enough meat, nobody cares how quickly the story goes. So you are always making choices, bargaining. Slow it down, speed it up, linger here, hurry forward, skip the stone across the water, or let it sink below the surface.

The deleted scene below is backstory, character development, an exchange that took place about two years before the championship game of Six Innings.

“Here, Dad.”

Alex tossed a baseball to his father in the parking lot after the game.

Casper Lionni muffed it, at the same time fumbling the thick book (an epic poem, Homer’s The Iliad) that he’d tucked under his arm. The book fell with a thud. The ball bounced away and rolled under a Honda Odyssey.

“My bad, I’ll get it,” Alex said.

The boy stretched out on the pavement, reached under the minivan and recovered the ball.

This time, he handed it to his father.

Mr. Lionni wore a puzzled expression.

Alex explained, “If you hit a home run, they let you keep it. See,” he pointed to some writing on the ball, “Coach even wrote down the date.”

“Neat.” Mr. Lionni moved to return the ball to Alex.

“No, keep it,” Alex said.


“Yeah, Dad,” Alex said. “I think batting practice really helped last week. Not to mention the new goggles. So, um, thanks. I want you to have it.”

“But Alex,” Mr. Lionni protested. “This is your home run ball.”

“That’s okay,” Alex replied. “I’ll hit another.”

They did not speak of the problems at home. How Alex’s father was moving to an apartment, how everything was turning upside down. Sometimes it was better not to talk about these things. At this moment, in a parking lot beside a baseball diamond, Casper Lionni tucked a baseball into his jacket pocket. He ran his thumb over the seams. “Thank you, Alex,” he said. “I’ll treasure this.”

And so he would.

The ball would be displayed in a plastic cube on a mantel in the living room of his apartment. The place he called, awkwardly, his “new bachelor pad.” On silent nights, when Alex was away sleeping in the old house, Mr. Lionni would remove the ball from the clear plastic cube. He would hold the home run ball in his hands, thumb feeling the raised red seams, thinking about victories and loses, trying to understand how things had ever come to this, how a lifetime could have possibly led him here, alone in an apartment, filled with regret.

“How about we stop at Jim’s Tasty Freeze for some ice cream?” he suggested. “We’ve got a home run to celebrate.”

Alex Lionni thought that was a most excellent idea.

NOTE: I have to add that it tickled me when Mr. Lionni dropped The Iliad, and fumbled the “homer” ball, which rolled under a Honda Odyssey. Clever, huh? But not, I hope, “look at me” clever.

Or Elmore Leonard wouldn’t approve.

For the record, I’m fine with those cuts. It’s a matter of pulling back and trying to look at the whole, as opposed to becoming too attached to the specifics of a given scene. It also comes back to trust, and with Six Innings I had faith in my editors, Liz Szabla and Jean Feiwel. To keep the zip and zing of the thing, some decent background material winds up on the cutting room floor. It was more challenging with Six Innings, since I was interested in an ensemble piece, an Altmanesque approach that included many characters, many plates spinning at once. A strategy that works against a singular forward focus. Of course, the game itself became that focus, the engine that pulled everything else up the mountain and down the track.

Here’s a sixty-second example of a deleted scene from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” It’s a boring scene and, though it may have told us a tiny bit about Harry’s friendship with Ron, and coyly foreshadowed the chess game, it would have brought the movie to a crashing halt:

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Deleted Scenes: Six Innings

During the revision process for Six Innings, I cut more than 10,000 words. It was a very difficult time for me, filled with doubt and uncertainty. But I trusted my wise & experienced editors, Liz Szabla and Jean Feiwel, and understood their concerns. We all wanted the same thing — for this book to be as good as it could be. So I semi-sadly started hacking away.

My original concept for the book was to use a single game as the structural skeleton, on which I’d hang riffs and character studies, the stories that would add flesh to the book. Well in the first draft, that technique got a little confusing at times, and the through-line of the game itself got muddled, so in revision we cut out a bunch of off-the-field moments to achieve, we hoped, better balance. Some sections I simply lopped away like Van Gogh’s ear, some made it through unscathed, while still others survived in severely truncated form. That was the case with the selection below, which was reduced to a couple of brief paragraphs on pp. 53-54. I always liked it; hey, we all did. This was a classic case of removing something that was, in isolation, good (or so I thought), but that in our view did not do enough to serve the narrative arc. This happens with movies all the time. To preserve the narrative flow, the forward march of things, some decent material winds up on the cutting room floor. (And, I guess, eventually winds up on a blog somewhere.)

Here’s a 38-second example of a deleted scene that never made it into the final cut of a popular movie:

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Back to Six Innings. This is how one section appeared in an early unedited draft, before I stopped by with a machete:

* * * * *


“Ty-Ty Smash”

Naked except for a drooping diaper, two-and-a-half year-old Tyler Weinberg swaggered around in his backyard. As usual, he held a large stick in his hand. Tyler spied a squirrel and moved toward it, mischief blazing in his eyes.

“Ty-Ty smash,” he announced to the birds in the bush.
Whap! He smacked the stick on the lawn. Hee-hee. The sound made him laugh. Whap, whap!

“Ty-Ty smash,” he repeated happily.

Whoosh, thwack. He whipped the stick against the hammock, still damp from last night’s rain. The squirrel watched transfixed, alarmed, yet curious. Its tail flicked nervously. The creature sized up the approaching pink-bellied menace and decided: Trouble. A final twitch of the tail and the gray creature scurried a few feet up the trunk of an oak tree, just beyond, it thought, harm’s reach.

Tyler Weinberg pushed against the tree with both hands. He tried knocking it down. Again he swung the stick, leaping to reach the squirrel. Thud, thwap, crack; thud, thwap, crack. Again and again.

The squirrel complained bitterly: Tcccccckkkkkssss.

Thud, thwap, oomphff.

A glorious peel of laughter erupted in the backyard. A whoop of triumph.

Whap, whap, whappp!

The back door flew open, banged closed. “WHAT’S GOING ON OUT HERE?” Tyler’s mother, Amy Weinberg, screamed. “TYLER! TYLER, GET AWAY FROM THAT SQUIRREL! PUT DOWN THAT STICK THIS INSTANT!” Her voice was rising, shrilly climbing toward hysteria. She barreled forward incautiously and twisted an ankle on a battered toy truck.

Tyler turned to his mother and grinned, triumphant.

“Ty-Ty smash,” he explained proudly.

He was holding a dead squirrel by the tail.

And so a slugger was born.

Tyler — or “Red Bull,” as he came to be called by his coaches — was simply one of those boys suffused with an excess of energy. Super-charged. He could not sit still. In truth, he could barely sit at all. Knees popping up and down, toes tapping, fingers fidgeting, brain a blur, arms akimbo. Bouncing was better. Jumping, running, leaping, pouncing, flouncing, crawling, cavorting, gamboling — all good. But best of all, the single act that calmed Tyler, that focused his scattered energies and made his heart soar?

Smashing things.

The world was his piñata. And there he stood, dizzy and daffy and blindfolded, a big stick in his grip, eager to swing and swing again. To batter, bash, smash, and shatter. The boy liked to clobber things. He became a one-boy wrecking crew. And the bigger he grew, the harder they fell: Crash, bash, boom. Broken lamps, cracked windows, whatever was in his path. Especially, and most happily, baseballs.