While a story needs the sequence of events clearly expressed (as a whole; keeping things hidden from the reader is fine if they’re to be revealed at some point), it can sometimes be tricky working out what you can leave out or skimp over.
There’s a difference in large stories like George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire – where entire important battles happen off screen, but where there’s a lot happening and including everything could pose a health hazard to anyone carrying one of the hardbacks around – and a short story where a scene accounts for far more of the story.
(Or maybe it’s more a matter of how the scene relates to the overall story, or character arcs. Maybe moving away from the viewpoint of those caught up in the scene allows it to be only heard about.)
It’s a challenge when faced with scenes that just don’t work whether or not to omit it. Ideally you find either what it is about the scene that requires its inclusion, or what makes you want to write it, and focus on that, or you find what isn’t working and determine why not.
In Games of Shadow, part 5 of Shadows of the Heavens, the dinner party at the end was almost painful to write, and the first draft was far more sparse, with blocks left to fill in later. I could have ended the main strands of the story differently, but it wouldn’t then have introduced characters who’d play greater roles in the rest of the series. And it said more about the main characters, and the setting. So the scene served multiple purposes, some of which would be lost without it.
It was therefore necessary to keep it, so on the later draft I went back to it and outlined that scene in more detail than I had. I didn’t rewrite it until happy with the way it worked, and interested in it.
In the recently released Dreams of the Dead there’s an omitted chase scene that I’m worried readers might find slightly jarring. The story skips from trouble about to happen, to the characters having evaded their pursuers, without giving the chase scene.
This was never written. It was in the rough outline, but many action scenes I never break down that much, preferring to maintain spontaneity and energy when writing them. I couldn’t find any interesting thing to do with the chase scene, and it wasn’t doing anything else (no character work or world-building for which it could be utilised). It had only a single purpose, and held little interest for me, so I left it out. Its omission doesn’t feel like it affects the overall story. Possibly the increased pace of the action could have been useful, and the brief build-up without the payoff may trip readers, but the series overall tends to have sharp, brief action scenes, so the scene could have felt incongruous as part of the overall narrative movement.
Possibly (okay probably) I’m overly neurotic, and readers won’t particularly care about the omission. It’s a danger when writing that you study the structure in more detail than you might otherwise. (I find when reading I notice ‘said’ far more than I’m sure I used to, when it’s supposed to become invisible to readers.)
Ultimately I can only write what feels right. If a scene feels like it’ll be a slog to write then maybe my unconscious is telling me there’s something wrong with it. And if the scene can be dropped without affecting the story in any way, maybe it should be.