Scene and Sequel
by Karrie Balwochus
"Scene & Sequel" was first "defined" and introduced to writers by Dwight Swain in his TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER (another must have book for the writer). Various people picked up his teachings and ran with it — one of the most popular teachers is Rita Gallagher (co-founder of RWA), who taught this to me.
A very, very basic description of scene and sequel — it is the pearls of the chain making your story from beginning to end. Scene = Action (don’t be confused with scene breaks), where the character defines his scene goal and goes after it — there is also conflict preventing him from reaching his scene goal. While the character is actively going after his goals, he is in action, and scene.
A very simple example of scene and action, is a husband driving wildly down a rain slicked freeway, darting in and out of heavy traffic, and trying to get to the hospital where his wife is having their baby. Running thru his head is the argument they had that morning where she accused him of being unreliable, of always putting other things first — knowing if she has this baby today — he won’t be there. You have his scene goal, get to the hospital and save his marriage. You have conflict — the heavy traffic, the weather, and his internal conflict of remembering their fight.
The next step in scene & sequel is where "scene" (action) ends in a disaster. Using the above example — he’s driving crazy and all of a sudden has an accident where the vehicle flips over and crashes into a few other cars. The disaster is a situation which forces the character into Sequel = Reaction to this disaster, which is a dilemma and decision, with a formation of a new scene goal.
The sequel begins immediately after the disaster — the accident, with an emotional reaction from the character, shock, fear, surprise, realizes he’s not terribly hurt, etc. There is then a physical reaction, he wipes the blood from his face, he gets out of the vehicle, etc. Now he is immediately faced with the dilemma of sequel. What does he do? He’s caused a major pile up on the freeway, but he still has to get to his wife — or she will be right when she said he wouldn’t show up and it will probably be the end of his marriage. But he if he leaves the accident, he will get in trouble with the police. Dilemma is the character debating two choices. According to his character traits, flaws, and current growth in the story, he will make his decision. By making the right decision his character grows just a tiny bit. (Again, depending on the set up of this story let’s say the right decision his risking the wrath of the cops and leaving, putting his wife and baby above all else). His decision is to continue on to the hospital, he spots a taxi and makes a bee-line for it.
The minute he acts on his decision, you are back in scene = action, with a new scene goal. And the whole things starts over again — each decision leads to a new goal, new actions, new conflict, and new disasters. Depending on how you want to do it, you can show further trouble with him trying to get to the hospital, or you can take him straight to the hospital where he gets to be with his wife while she has the baby — but now he’s in trouble with the law. The story continues. Perhaps the scene leads to him holding his newborn baby, the conflict is the police arriving, and the disaster is then putting the cuffs on him, etc. Or something similar.
This is just a very basic overview. Novel structure can be complicated, and its difficult to spot in books — in fact, if you can spot the structure easily, the writer hasn’t done their job. When I first started, my scene & sequels were very, very obvious. But once you get it into your subconscious, you will find yourself writing it automatically and blurring it to flow naturally.
Through scene & sequel, the reader sees and experiences with the character. Dilemma and decision open the character’s deepest struggles to the reader, therefore allowing the reader strong identification. When you read a book and don’t understand the characters or why they do what they do, or lose interest in the book entirely, that means the structure is poor.
Barnes, Steve. Introduction to Screenwriting, Week 2, LifeWrite.com, http://www.lifewrite.com/free_writing_class2.htm
Kelly,Leslie. Scenes & Sequels, Spacecoast Authors of Romance, http://www.authorsofromance.com/scenes.htm