Hi everyone! We are diving right into the thick of writing technique with a guest post by author Raven Oak, who is joining us to talk about the successful pattern of Scene and Sequel. This is a must read, especially for those who do not know about this technique. Trust me, your writing will thank you!
Scene and Sequel
When I began writing seriously—not the scribbles in a notebook of plots I’d write someday or the half-started, never-finished stories I cranked out, but the “I want to write novels for a living” point in my career—my first completed book felt juvenile. Portions dragged. And those that didn’t, sped through the action without anyone stopping to smell any proverbial roses. So how does one develop solid pacing through a novel while building tension, developing characters, describing setting, and advancing plot lines? The answer is a little trick called Scene and Sequel. Why? Because humans like patterns.
Scene and Sequel is a technique developed by Dwight Swain in his book, Techniques of the Selling Writer. (If you haven’t checked it out, I would strongly suggest doing so as he covers a wide range of simple tricks writers can use to develop better stories.)
Readers pick up a work because they want a powerful and emotional experience. It’s an escape from the drudgery of the real world and a way to live vicariously through others. As a writer, you must create and maintain an illusion strong enough to fool the reader. Pacing helps create and maintain this illusion.
Novels are typically comprised of chapters, which are often made up of scenes. To keep the ebb and flow of a novel going, each scene should then be identified as being a scene or a sequel.
A scene has the following pattern:
- Goal—what the character wants. Must be clearly definable
- Conflict—series of obstacles that keep the character from the goal
- Disaster—makes the character fail to get the goal
And a sequel has the following pattern:
- Reaction—emotional follow through of the disaster.
- Dilemma—a situation with no good options
- Decision—character makes a choice (which sets up the new goal).
Chapter 1 is a SCENE
- Goal—Scrooge wants money and to be left alone.
- Conflict—When the charity solicitors and Scrooge’s nephew visit, they stir up feelings in Scrooge and memories of his sister, Fran. As Scrooge arrives home, he sees his old business partner’s (Marley’s) face in the doorknocker, and then later in the pictures in his fireplace mantel. Scrooge tries to dismiss the conflicting emotions/thoughts this stirs up.
- Disaster—The disaster is when Marley’s Ghost arrives to warn Scrooge that three ghosts will visit him. Each one has a lesson to teach him. If he doesn’t heed their lessons, Scrooge’s afterlife will be full of pain and misery.
- Scenes tend to be full of action and tension that push the plot forward. Remember, every scene you write must further the plot and/or further the character development.
Chapter 2 is a SEQUEL
- Reaction—Scrooge’s initial reaction is to write off Marley’s visit as the result of some bad food. When the Ghost of Christmas Past arrives, Scrooge tries to send him away. He claims he doesn’t want or need the lesson, but having no choice, Scrooge accompanies the ghost into the past.
- Dilemma—As Scrooge journeys through quite a few joyful and painful memories, he begins to doubt the decisions he’s made. Scrooge faces a dilemma: whether or not to believe himself guilty of bad judgment and humbug, or whether to continue avoiding Christmas, its joy, and his family as he has for many-a-year. Neither are good options, so he picks the option he thinks he can live with.
- Decision—Scrooge decides the past is too painful, because it’s made him doubt himself. In anger, he decides to extinguish the light given by the Ghost of Christmas Past, and thus, his own light. At least momentarily.
What a sequel does is give our character(s) an opportunity for reflection and self-introspection. The decision will lead us into our next scene, where the character(s) develop a new goal. In the case of Scrooge, Chapter 3 (scene) begins with a new goal: Scrooge reacted rashly in extinguishing the light. At the sight of the Ghost of Christmas Present, he decides he will go with him willingly and see what there is to see. And if necessary, think further on his own attitudes and prejudices. He’s not ready for a huge change yet, but change is happening—as change should be happening to your characters as well.
Scenes and sequels should continue to alternate the entire length of the novel, and in doing so, they’ll create a natural flow for both plot progression & character development. Many authors plan or outline the sequence of events using scene & sequel on index cards before writing.
Just about any novel you read will follow this rhythm. It seems simple, but structure usually is. Pick up a book and give it a flip through—I bet it follows the pattern!
Do you use Scene and Sequel, or is this something you’re planning on testing out? Let us know in the comments!
Her name was Adelei, a master in her field, one of the feared Order of Amaska. Those who were a danger to the Little Dozen Kingdoms wound up dead by her hand. The Order sends her deep into the Kingdom of Alexander, away from her home in Sadai, and into the hands of the Order’s enemy.
The job is nothing short of a suicide mission, one serving no king, no god, and certainly not Justice. With no holy order to protect her, she tumbles dagger-first into the Boahim Senate’s political schemes and finds that magic is very much alive and well in the Little Dozen Kingdoms.
While fighting to unravel the betrayal surrounding the royal family of Alexander, she finds her entire past is a lie, right down to those she called family. They say the truth depends on which side of the sword one stands. But they never said what to do when all the swords are pointing at you.