In the plotting and storyline process of writing, often times the term, ‘Scene and Sequel’ is brought into play. This is a very important aspect of the writing process, as the entire structure of your story rests on the way you compose each of these elements in your work. The scene and the sequel are both small pieces that come together throughout your novel to form the whole of your story. So what exactly are they?
The Scene – Most all of us are familiar with this guy. In the modern age of writing, with ‘Show Don’t Tell’ playing such a major factor and great dialogue a must have, many editors and readers are looking for fast-paced works, with almost non-stop action and little introspection. Does this mean that you must write action/adventure when you really want to do romance? Of course not! The thing to remember, regardless of your chosen genre, is this: writing that moves the plot forward with action, real or inert, is an action scene. To simplify, let’s take a closer look into the structure of a scene.
Just like a complete story, each scene should have three main elements: beginning, middle and end. So what comprises each element?
1) The Beginning: Your character or characters are introduced to a catalyst. Something takes place that is going to cause conflict and/or force them to act.
Example: Leslie’s garbage can is missing. What happened to it? Did a neighbor steal it? Did the wind blow it away?
2) The Middle: How your characters react to this catalyst. The measures taken to resolve their questions or problems and move the story along.
Example: Lacing up her trusty running shoes, Leslie sets off in search of the recalcitrant refuse container. Noticing Mr. Jones watering his flowers, she decides to question him as a possible witness.
3) The End: The climax followed by a resolution. The point in your story where the questions caused by the catalyst are answered.
Example: Approaching the gardening octogenarian, Leslie catches a glimpse of a familiar black object beside his driveway. Before she can grill him as to the reason for this anomaly, Mr. Jones waves and calls out to her, “Hi there, Neighbor! Mighty windy today — I think your trash can may have made its way down to my house!”
Okay, so my examples are a bit oversimplified, I think you get the idea anyway. Each scene must tell a story. It might not be the entire story, but it still has a beginning, middle and end. Now for the second element.
The Sequel – This is probably one of my personal favorites when it comes to writing. It is also one of the most commonly overlooked elements and tends to be overused when it’s not overlooked. Basically, a sequel is nothing more than the period of reflection or introspection between scenes. ‘Thinking time’ for your characters, if you will. And just like a scene, it also has a structure.
1) The Beginning: Reaction time — Your character or characters’ response to what happened in the previous scene.
Example: Leslie flopped down onto her couch and buried her head in her hands. How embarrassing! She’d been ready to call in the FBI, when poor Mr. Jones was just trying to be a good neighbor. Thank goodness she hadn’t had a chance to open her big mouth!
2) The Middle: The Dilemma — A set of choices presented to your character to add suspense. Should they do this, or that? What steps do they take from here? This is the time when your characters do their plotting.
Example: Something had to be done. She couldn’t go around eying her neighbors like suspected felons every time the wind picked up. Should she build one of those little garbage can holders to place on the curb? Or just ditch the can altogether and start sitting her trash out in the bags alone?
3) The End: Decision making — The determined course of action. (Often the set-up for the next scene.) The conclusion and resolution brought about by your character’s mental meanderings.
Example: Leslie thinks she’ll just use bags for now. Wandering strays might cause some problems, but it won’t be as bad as having one of those tacky little trash fences on the lawn. They are impossible to mow around and look simply awful with grass sprouting out all over.
See how the sequel gives us a bit of character insight while setting us up for the next scene? Can’t you just picture me out on the lawn next trash day, chasing down blowing litter and cursing stray dogs? Sequels are essential to a well-rounded story. The trick is not to overuse them. Lengthy sequels can slow the pace of your story considerably, which in the long run, ends up dropping the emotional level in your work. So keep the action coming — but remember to give your characters AND your readers a chance to breathe!