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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Scene and Sequel: Sequel

The basic structure of a story consists of a Scene, followed by a Sequel. A Scene is a real-time unit of conflict. A Sequel is the transition period that links two Scenes.

A Sequel controls the story’s tempo by slowing things down after the conflict in the previous Scene. It’s a primarily emotional segment. You can skip or compress time rather than laying out action blow-by-blow.

A Sequel has three parts:

1) Reaction

Show the character’s state of affairs and state of mind after the Disaster of the previous Scene.

Disaster: John is thrown out of the shop by his rival, in front of Mary.
Reaction: John cycles from embarrassment to insecurity to despair to anger.

Also show other characters’ responses to the Disaster.

Reaction: John’s buddy Mike says he’s a big fat loser.

Flashback should never go in a Scene because it will slow the pace and drop tension, but a Sequel is the perfect place to show your character’s background, what has molded him into the person he is.

Reaction: John remembers when his father threw him out of the house in front of his weeping mother. He recalls his feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness.

2) Dilemma

So what does the character do now? Lay out his choices. You can also include non-conflict incidents--new information, new action--to influence his options.

Dilemma: John could give up and go back home to Indiana, he could covertly try to see Mary, or he could seek out his rival and beat him up.
Incidents: John discovers his rival has a bad left knee.

3) Decision

The character comes up with a course of action, and a new Goal for the coming Scene.

Decision: John overcomes his old feelings of inadequacy and determines to show Mary he’s worthy of her love by beating up his rival.
Goal for next Scene: Find his rival at the coffeeshop and issue a challenge.

Sequel length will determine the overall mood of your story. Short Sequels make the story fast-paced, longer Sequels make it introspective.

Use your Sequels to set up your character’s personality, chain of logic, and background. Then segue way into the next action-packed Scene.

While this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, most well-paced stories will follow this structure of Goal-Conflict-Disaster-Reaction-Dilemma-Decision. It provides a method to move the plot and character development forward.

Exercise:

Write a Sequel to the Scene you wrote earlier.

Next: General Story Structure and Strategy For a Novel

NOTE: Information in this article is taken from the classic "Techniques of the Selling Writer" by Dwight V. Swain.

Back to Articles from Swain

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