About a week ago, I posted about writing a scene. But if a novel was made entirely of scenes (goal, conflict, disaster), then the reader would be run ragged and never understand the true foundations of Character’s goal. To remedy that problem, writers have to balance sequels with their scenes.
Sequels consist of the bullets above–reaction, dilemma, decision–and they’re meant to compliment the scene. A great story cannot be written solely of scenes; likewise, it can’t be written from sequels alone, either. Let’s glance at some differences between scenes and sequels, and then we’ll dissect the sequel’s three bullet points for deeper meaning.
- Are shown active, happening right now
- Shouldn’t have summary or flashback
- Don’t have any breaks in time
- Sometimes miss the setting and mood to hone in on the conflict
- Are, at best, a combination of telling and showing
- Have breaks in time, so summaries are great
- Can contain flashbacks
- Control the tempo of the story
- Are a great place to deepen the setting and mood, as long as there is a unifying topic, such as a feeling
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Now that we’ve laid out some of the complimentary aspects of the scene and sequel, let’s dive into the sequel itself based on its three big points.
1) Reaction. Coming out of a scene’s disaster, Character has to react. One of the great way to show this is through other characters’ reaction to the disaster. “You failed your test? I can’t date you anymore.” Or, “I can’t believe you flunked college. Don’t expect to move back into my house.”
As I mentioned, the unifying theme of the sequel is a topic, which is often a feeling. The reaction part is a great way to bring out the feelings your character has after the disaster. And, if, for example, Character is sad, then the sequel’s tone can be set to reflect his sadness. Only things emphasizing Character’s sadness in the sequel should be mentioned. Otherwise, you’ll bore your reader with day-to-day life… But it is true that a considerable amount of time may pass during the sequel, and those passages of time can be bridged together with the unifying theme of the sequel.
For example, “Character Bob dropped his head as he walked out of his house. His feet were the only ones tapping the sidewalk, and he didn’t lift his head again until he came to the intersection.”
In the example, Character Bob’s sadness took us from him leaving his house until he wandered forever and boring ever to get to this intersection. The unifying theme, emotion in this case, took the reader quickly from one place to another.
But now, Character Bob can either keep walking straight at the intersection and stay at a hotel for the night, or he can turn right, go to his professor’s house, and demand a retest. Thus, we now have…
2) Dilemma. What is your character going to do now after the disaster and initial reaction? Here’s the place to logically hash out all of your character’s options, and none of them seem great, so what’s he going to do? Well, Character Bob only has enough money for one night at the hotel. He won’t last long. Better to take a chance with the professor first and try to talk him into a retest. Which leads us to…
3) Decision. Character must eventually make a decision, or your story won’t go anywhere. Ultimately, your character’s decision should lead into the goal of the next scene where conflict will be inevitable.
Doesn’t seem too hard, right? And there are lots of little tricks you as the writer can throw into the scene to make it more gripping for readers. Such as an…
1) Incident. This is like a micro-scene where your character attempts to reach a goal, but there is no conflict. If Character Bob wants to steal a car instead of walking and the car owner lets him, then there is no conflict. This is an incident. Or, writers can use…
2) Happening. This is a casual meeting between characters, but there is no drama because Character Bob is focused only on the disaster of the previous scene. For example, a classmate sees Character Bob walking with his head down and says, “Hey Bob, nice weather, isn’t it?” But Character Bob doesn’t answer because he’s too devastated to notice.
However you writers decide to use the sequel, it’s important to let the reader see Character’s logical thinking.
I’m still learning so much from Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer, and here’s an encouraging tip for you. Swain notes that when his students started following the scene-sequel model, their books started to sell. Don’t let the scene-sequel model scare you! Use them as building blocks, one after the other, to build an unforgettable story leading to your success.