This article that I wrote originally appeared on Suite101.
Control Story Flow With Sequels
The Classic Sequel as Described By Dwight Swain
Dwight Swain’s Sequel can be broken down into easy segments to enable the writer to write a strong story segment that develops character and transitions to the next Scene.
One of the most famous writing books is Techniques of the Selling Writerby Dwight Swain, where he breaks down fiction writing into modules. One of his most popular techniques is Scene and Sequel (described in this article).
Swain describes a Sequel as “a unit of transition that links two scenes,” but Sequels tend to encompass a broader range of purposes than just transition.
The Sequel following a Scene allows the writer to slow the pacing and give the reader some breather space. This can be easily accomplished by enabling the character to react to what just happened in the previous Scene.
This controls the story’s tempo and flow by giving the character space to react emotionally. All of us need time to process information.
Reaction could be emotions or actions or both. You can also show other characters’ reactions, and how that impacts the point of view character.
This doesn’t mean you need to show every detail. You can summarize about time passing, or the character doing things.
Create a true dilemma for your character—what to do next? What are his options? Narrow them down.
Try not to give a choice between two happy alternatives or an easy decision. A difficult decision injects a bit more conflict into the story—and into the Sequel, which is typically a slow portion of the story—and keeps the reader interested. The reader suffers with the character and becomes emotionally invested in the character’s decision.
This process of dilemma also shows the reader the character’s inner values, backstory, motivations. The reasons why the character chooses what he does reveals who he is and explains further why he’s after his larger External Goal for the story, which helps the reader understand him better. This gives an understandable motivation to the conflict in the following Scene.
This is a good place for the writer to introduce new information or sometimes new characters. Give the character all the resources he needs to decide what to do next.
This is also a good place to telescope time because it usually takes some time to come to a decision. This contrasts a Scene, which is typically in real time.
After weighing all the options, the character decides what to do next, which becomes the Goal for the next Scene. This enables Scene to follow Sequel to follow Scene, a smooth transition of peaks and valleys.
A Sequel Doesn’t Mean Low Tension
Many times, writers will eliminate all tension from a Sequel since the majority of it is reactive and contemplative. However, if the tension is too low, the reader will put the book down.
Opt instead for some slight, relatively unimportant tension—but tension nevertheless—that carries through the Sequel. The character still has a Reaction, Dilemma, and Decision, but there’s a nagging tension in the background that keeps the scene from being too boring.
For example, Harriet could be Reacting to the previous Scene and deciding what to do next while sitting in her living room (yawn). Or, she could be thinking these things while on the job as a kindergarten teacher, dealing with screaming children.
The process of Scene and Sequel might seem awkward or contrived at first, but once the writer blends the principles of this technique into his own writing style, it’s easy to see how this scene format accomplishes several things: regulate pacing, integrate conflict, develop character, and forward the story.