Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pitfalls with Scene and Sequel

  • If you’re a writer, you most likely use Scene and Sequel. We’ve talked about these important elements of story structure in Seekerville before. Since I need to review the basics of craft often, and I'm hoping I’m not the only one who does, today I’ll be talking about this important element of story using Jack Bickham’s Scene and Structure.
    First let's look at story. Story begins when the protagonist is jarred out of his comfort zone with a change that threatens the status quo. When a hero and heroine are slapped with trouble, they will not whine and fret as I’m prone to do. Instead they make a story-length goal they believe will make things “right” again. Our job as writers is to impose obstacles to these goals that add conflict and raise the stakes.
    Okay, that's enough about the big picture. Let's go back to Scene and Sequel.
    Scene is a segment of physical story action in the now, not in the character’s head.

    Bickham suggests the following pattern for scenes that will move the story forward:
  • Begin scenes with the statement of the point of view character’s immediate goal that’s relevant to his long-term goal. This is a small part of scene.
  • Introduce and develop conflict and compromise. Keep the action in the moment. The character’s goal is opposed for the majority of the scene, usually by a villain or antagonist with strong motivation to thwart the protagonist’s goal.
  • End the scene with disaster. Disaster should fit the goal, not just be some random act of violence. Disaster is not what we think of as a disaster such as an earthquake or injury, but disastrous for the goal. A “yes, but” or a “no, and furthermore” dilemma that’s unanticipated yet a logical development that sets the character back. Disaster is a small part of the scene. Failure to reach his goal raises the stakes for the character, giving the reader reason to worry and sympathize.

    Sounds easy, but it isn’t, at least not for me.

    Pitfalls with writing scenes:
  • Pitfall #1--Writing a scene with the purpose of showing something about the character. That means the goal for the scene is the writers, not the characters. Instead show the character’s attributes while the character is working to obtain a goal. If the character doesn’t have a goal, the scene is pointless and should be scrapped.
  • Pitfall #2--Giving the POV character a goal that doesn’t relate to the book-length goal. When writers do this scenes will feel episodic. Ever had that problem? If the immediate goal relates to the book-length goal our story will flow.
  • Pitfall #3--Forgetting to have the character state his goal, either to himself or to another character. Bickham says put it in black and white so the reader will worry whether or not the character will get his goal.
  • .
  • Pitfall #4--Focusing on giving a great hook, which is good, but at the expense of showing whether the character got his goal or not and how this is a disaster for him.

Moving on to Sequel.

Bickham says sequel begins for the POV character the moment the scene ends. After the disaster the POV character is flooded with emotion. Emotion leads to thought, then to a decision or goal that results in a step toward a new immediate goal and a new action. That pattern keeps the story flowing and ensures scenes won’t feel episodic. To write strong sequels, writers must dig deep into character’s thoughts and feelings. The length of sequel depends on the writer, the story and/or the POV character. Sequel can come at the end of the scene, as Bickham says, or at the beginning of the next scene or even as introspection during dialogue.

  • Emotion: Show how the character is feeling by using his actions, dialogue or/and physical reaction. Put yourself in your character’s shoes. Have you experienced this emotion? What did you do?
  • Thought/Review: The character gets rational enough to remember his story-length goal and think about his new problem.
  • Analysis: Show the character as he plans, decides on his options.
  • Decision: The character makes a new immediate goal that will help him obtain his story-length goal. He decides what he will do next, what action he will take that leads to the new active scene.

    Pitfalls with writing sequels:
  • Telling emotion instead of showing how the character is feeling.
  • Finding the right amount of thought and analysis. Too much and it slows the pace. Too little and the reader doesn’t feel the impact of the disaster.
  • Having things happen to my characters, making them victims, instead of my characters making new plans that drive the action.
    Perhaps you know other pitfalls with writing Scene and Sequel. If so please share.

With thirty-one books under her belt, my critique partner Shirley Jump is a master of Scene and Sequel. She’s a seat of the pants writer who uses this technique to find her story.

The following passage is from Vegas Pregnancy Surprise, a secret baby story.

The dry Vegas air slammed into Molly as soon as she got out of the taxicab. The August heat seemed to weigh on her, like a thick, suffocating blanket. Dry or not—it was hot.

"Are you sure this is the right place?” she asked the cab driver.

The older man at the wheel of the car gestured toward the towering glass buildings, two twin mirrors of each other, connected by an all-glass skybridge. The building was impressive, with neat linear lines and a clean silver and glass exterior, a stark contrast to the colorful noise of the Vegas strip a little ways behind them. “Curtis Systems, yes, ma’am. Can’t miss it.”

Molly thanked and paid the driver. She stepped into the shadow of the Curtis Systems building, dwarfed by the twenty-plus stories above her. Now that she was finally here, trepidation held her rooted to the spot.

She should go home. Forget the whole idea. Come up with another plan.

Except, there wasn’t really another plan, at least not one that could solve both the job and getting to know the father of her baby dilemmas all at once.

She just hadn’t expected the Linc she met in a bar two months ago was this Linc.

When she’d Googled Linc, with what little information she had, she’d come back with two different possibilities for software companies in Las Vegas. There’d been many software companies, of course, but only two that returned results with an employee named Linc. The first was no longer in business—all she’d found had been a weedy lot with a For Sale sign. That left Curtis Systems.

The company name had returned hundreds of Google hits, link after link showing the meteoric rise of the company’s success. Google hadn’t lied. She peered up at the monolith of a building. A success story on a mega level. And according to the information she’d read on the Internet, Linc didn’t just work here—he was the owner and CEO.

The man she’d met, the one who seemed so…normal, so guy-next-door, was the same one at the helm of this massive, multi-national, multi-million dollar corporation?

Again, she considered turning around, heading back to San Diego. Then her hand drifted to her stomach, to the new life growing inside her, and she knew she had to go inside that building.

Not just for the job she needed, but for her baby.

The heroine, Molly, has just lost her teaching job and discovered she's pregnant. Her book-length goal is stated at the opening of this scene. She wants to hook up again with Linc, the father of her baby and to get a job while she’s there. Her motivation: She wants to get to know Linc so she can tell her child about his father one day. Without a job, she needs to make money for the baby.

Here's the end of that scene:

She pushed those thoughts aside. She wasn’t here to relive that night in the Bellagio. Even if her mind kept straying in that direction every time she looked into Linc’s blue eyes, or heard his voice, or felt his touch. Nope, not going back there. No way.

Stick to the plan, Molly. Be smart. Not foolish again.

Molly returned to the booth, perching on the edge of the seat. “When you told me about that software, I saw a man who was alive, excited. That passion extended into your idea. I wanted to be on board with something like that. Not to mention be a part of developing a program that encourages kids to get outdoors and interact with nature, rather than stay inside, being couch potatoes and playing yet another video game.”

His gaze connected with hers across the table. “You saw passion in me, for this? A different person than you see today?”

She nodded.

He looked away for a moment, not at anything in particular, but out into the restaurant. She couldn’t read whatever parade of thoughts was running through his mind. But when he turned back to her, the twinkle that had been in his blue eyes the night she’d met him had returned, and a funny quiver stirred in Molly’s gut. “If we did this, and this is a big if…it would require a team of people to implement. Particularly people who know a lot about children.”

She bit her lip. Dared to hope. “Like former kindergarten teachers?”

He smiled. “Exactly like former kindergarten teachers.”

Molly took a deep breath and voiced the idea she’d had when she’d boarded the plane to Vegas and taken the biggest risk of her life—no, the second biggest risk of her life. “That’s exactly why I came here, Linc. To offer you my services.”

During the scene, Molly realizes the only way she’ll get to know her baby’s father is to work for him, which gives her the goal of having a job, but at the expense of possibly falling for him again. So things are worse, especially since she found out during this scene that he has no interest in settling down with anyone.

Leave a comment and your e-mail address for a chance to win a copy of Vegas Pregnancy Surprise. Better yet, if you’re a writer, share pitfalls you've experienced with writing scene and sequel.

I brought eggs benedict for breakfast with fresh fruit, tea and coffee. Dive in and let’s play.


Vince said...


I’m currently reading “Vegas Pregnancy Surprise .” I read the quoted segment last night and admired how economically the author was setting up the story. Very few words. A lot of ground covered.

My question is this: if you set-up detailed scenes as you indicate here aren’t the scenes actually little plots? And isn’t this method a form of incremental plotting? I like it.


KC Frantzen said...

Janet, you had me at "Sounds easy, but it isn’t, at least not for me."


THIS type of post is exactly why so many of us relish and cherish Seekerville. Just excellent information.

I'm as yet pre-published (!) so I'm not sure if I've successfully mastered scene and sequel at all in my WIP. I surely understand the concept but implementation... there's the rub.

Will review yet again - thank you so much.

(I'm thrilled by the way to know there are successful pantsters out there. I've been toying with the notion of purchasing the Snowflake software for book 2 but haven't committed yet. I'm reading his "Writing Fiction for Dummies" now - it's excellent!)

I'll have to pass on the repaste for now. Hopefully there's some left when dawn's early light breaks. * yawn *

mookyap - that's my "word"
how perfect!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Janet, so well presented! And you DO make it look easy, girlfriend, both in your books and your explanations.

Wonderful stuff, kiddo.

I'm downing coffee big time. Loving it. And the Eggs Benedict...

Janet-O, oh my stars, you rock.

And the summer TV show "Royal Pains" does a great job with scene and sequel, how each point of a scene pushes you into the sequel seamlessly. Good dialogue and foreshadowing are big helps in that department.

Hey, do we have salsa around here???

Janet Dean said...

Good morning, Vince. Great timing on reading Shirley's book!

The story moves forward scene by scene so scenes are little plots with rising action. I like calling the method incremental plotting too! You ought to write a book. :-)


Janet Dean said...

KC, you had me at: I surely understand the concept but implementation... there's the rub.
I know things that I forget to do all the time. Thank goodness for revisions. And for the fresh eyes of critique partners and editors.

I haven't read Writing Fiction for Dummies. Sounds like my kind of book. :-) Actually I love reading books on craft! That's far easier than writing. LOL


Janet Dean said...

Hello Ruthy! Thanks kiddo. We both know easy isn't a term that fits writing or everyone would be doing it. LOL

I need to watch TV more!

Salsa's in the fridge.


Melanie Dickerson said...

I remember reading about scene and sequel when I first started writing and I totally misunderstood the concept. And I still don't really think like this. However, I have noticed that my story does tend to follow this basic pattern. However, it might help if I started consciously stating the goal at the beginning of each scene.

I am reading Major Pettigrew's Last Stand for my new book club I joined at my local library. I was so looking forward to our next meeting on Tuesday, and then I found out the ceremony my kids are participating in is not Wed. like I thought. It's Tue. So I can't go to my book club meeting! After I bought the book! And it's a hardback too!

I need chocolate. Lots of it, and make it dark.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Two "howevers" in one comment? Ugh.

kathy taylor said...

Fabulous advice! Thanks so much. I'll be reading this entry several times.

Julie Hilton Steele said...

I do love Shirley was great having her as the example for the day! And to have her as a critique Love you too so I guess y'all run in packs!

I am learning so much through these posts. New terminology and ways of thinking about these things.

Thanks and peace, Julie

Jessica Nelson said...

Thanks for breaking this down, Janet! Sometimes the specifics scramble my brain.
Great excerpt from Shirley's book!

Kathy said...

This post is comes at the perfect moment. My writing partner, Barb and I are plotting out a novel. I think that the idea of incremental plotting is excellent.

I was doing it in my other novel, but not consciously. Thanks for helping me understand my process better.


Patty Wysong said...

Thanks for putting in those pitfalls, Janet. They make it easier to which ones I fall into on a regular basis. =]


Kirsten Arnold said...

Janet, This is a great post and definitely a keeper! Thanks for the advice.

Janet Dean said...

Hi Melanie! Writers often have an intuitive method that works. That's probably what you're doing. When I use the tools of Scene and Sequel, I feel like my characters are driving the story.

Bummer about missing your book club, especially after investing in the hardback! Dark chocolate is over on the buffet. :-)


Janet Dean said...

Thanks Kathy! Glad the post is something you can use.


Anonymous said...

Please enter me for this book! Your post makes me really want to read it! Thanks!!!

Mary Connealy said...

Why is it, that in fiction today, billionaires have so much trouble with the whole 'birth control' concept.

I mean c'mon.
They oughta be smart even if they don't have any morals.

Mary Connealy said...

Oh we're talking about scene and sequel. Sorry, ignore that comment.


I love a good secret baby story. It's not that.

In fact, I think I'll go buy a copy of Vegas Pregnancy Surprise right now.

Janet Dean said...

Good morning, Julie! I love Shirley's books too. And the image of writers running in packs.
:-) Hey, we need each other!

I'm grateful for teachers of craft who've shared their expertise. I'm just passing their wisdom along.


Janet Dean said...

Hi Jessica. I understand scrambled brains. Be glad we haven't served them in Seekerville...yet! LOL


Janet Dean said...

Kathy, isn't it fun to see you're already doing intuitively what the craft books suggest? Congratulations and good luck with the new book!


Janet Dean said...

Hey, Patty, I'm delighted sharing the pitfalls helps. It's nice to know we're not alone, isn't it? I have to dig my way out often. :-)


Janet Dean said...

Kirsten, I'm keeping the post, too. LOL. It's good for me to review and way easier than re-reading the book.


Janet Dean said...

You're entered Jackie. Thanks for your interest in Shirley's book!


Janet Dean said...

Hey, Mary, great point. Maybe take that one up with Linc. :-)


Janet Dean said...

Contrary to the cover, Mary, Molly's pregnancy isn't evident to anyone, not even the father. Grab a copy of Vegas Pregnancy Surprise--available now.


Janet Dean said...

May I say, Mary, that Doctor in Petticoats is just wonderful!! I'm caught up in the story. This may turn out to be my favorite of your books! And that's saying plenty as I've loved them all!


Kav said...

I'm going to be brave and ask a really dumb question...because I'm a total lame-brain when it comes to reading 'craft' books. I tend to get bogged down for some reason. That's why I LOVE it when seekerville hightlights writing how-tos.

Love your second paragraph! That was a light bulb moment for me. I've been doing that -- but now I'll be more purposeful in my doing. :-)

And I get the scene -- it's almost like you're writing a mini story every scene. I can see how that can keep a writer focused on the ultimate goal of the story.

So, the trouble I'm having is with sequel. At first I thought you were talking about setting up a sequel for the book you're writing -- so like including characters who would appear in the next one etc. Y'all can laugh...I told you -- lame-brained.

So, I kind of have a fuzzy-headed idea that sequel is talking about what happens after a scene...maybe a bridge between scenes? But wouldn't that be a mini scene too? Or is sequel about making sure the next scene builds on the emotion of whatever happened in the previous one? Ack, I'm cafuzzled.

Gina Welborn said...

Great post, Janet!

While I won't mention the title, I read a CBA book recently where the author must have been a Scene and Sequel fan because after every action scene, the POV characters stopped and thought all aobut what had previously happened.

Shoot, the author would have an entire scene of a POV character doing nothing but sequelling...umm, thinking.

I feel like I know those characters better than the back of my hand, and the sad part is the back of my had has more consistency than that author's characters. And my skin is so soft. 'Cuse me while I admire the appealing freckles and occasionally scar on the back of my hand. Just lovely. And smooth.

Anyhoo, in this particular book that I'd read, I'd wish the author had taken some of that sequelling and layered in the scene so the character's actions and words would have made sense while they were happening...instead of the author explaining it all later during a three page scene of the character thinking. Just a swingin' and a thinkin'.

Hmm. I should write a song about that 'cuase I hear a tune in my head.

Julie Lessman said...

Janet, GREAT post, my friend and one that begs printing off!

I especially like the "emotion" point in "sequel" -- Put yourself in your character’s shoes. Have you experienced this emotion? What did you do?

Being an EDQ (emotional drama queen), this is my favorite part of writing because I literally close my eyes and do this, tapping into related memories from my past or contorting my face or body in various ways to capture the feeling needed to emote on paper. I'm always reminded of the Margaret O'Brien scene from "Meet Me in St. Louis" when Margaret's character Tootie smashes all the snowmen in the backyard. I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that the director told her to imagine that her dog died before the scene. That put young Margaret in the mood for a truly "smashing" scene, so I think writers need to do much the same thing in order to tap into their mother lode of emotion!


Myra Johnson said...

Great post, Janet, and you did a fine job of explaining the scene and sequel concepts! I first learned this in Dwight Swain's book Techniques of the Selling Writer. Swain, BTW, was Bickham's mentor.

If I may step in here, Kav, here's a basic outline of scene and sequel:

Scene = Goal, Conflict, Disaster
Sequel = Reaction, Dilemma, Decision

It's the logical progression of aiming for a goal, running into conflict, having your plans thwarted, then reacting emotionally and/or physically, weighing your limited options, and deciding on your NEXT goal as a result of all this pondering.

I must say I really identified with what you said, Janet, about how Shirley, a SOTP writer, uses scene and sequel to "discover" her story. This makes perfect sense to me because if you start out knowing your main story goal (the ONLY real plotting I do!), then let your characters take you on their journey through scene and sequel, your story is far less likely (in my humble opinion) to turn out "episodic," because each action, reaction, and new decision builds on what has come before.

Patty Wysong said...

Myra, the last paragraph of your comment helped a few things click into place for me--things I know and try to do but couldn't put explain. Thanks!

I love the discussions here! =]

Myra Johnson said...

Gina, one thing I remember from Swain's and Bickham's books is that sequels don't always have to be spelled out in great detail. A sequel may just be a sentence or two, or it may happen off-stage. You only write as much or as little as you need to to be believable and to keep the story moving.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Mary, I thought you were talking about Mel Gibson.

Kav said...

Myra thanks for explanation of the sequeal...I gave a little squeal as I read it because I'm a panster with very little plotter instincts but now you and Janet have actually given me a formula that, dare I say might actually allow a little plotting in my pantsing? (just a wee little bit mind). I'm sooo excited!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I'm going to try this out right now.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Oh my stars, all these folks, all this brain-turnin' and churnin' and one o' youse had sense enough to bring more food?

Oy vey, it's a good thing I stopped by and near'nuff to lunchtime on East Coast time, which is, of course, THE RIGHT TIME, CONNEALY.

But I have to agree with Mary, either these billionaires lately have an inflated (no pun intended) sense of self OR they're so emotionally driven (good job, Shirley!!!) that they can't stop to ... think.

Ahem... back to the topic at hand.

Which is, I believe: FOOD.

Janet has the Scene and Sequel stuff down pat, and wonderfully, so I'm going to pretend I understand it all and just sidle on over to the food table with:

BBQ Beef sandwiches, the beef thin-sliced and loaded with Famous Dave's Rich and Sassy sauce, sides of mac salad, potato salad, cornbread (still warm), 3 bean salad (would the world end if we added a 4th bean??? I've never quite mustered the courage to try... Someone else do it and let me know, 'kay?)

Sweet tea, diet colas, coffee, water, hot tea....

Settle on in, the convo's goin' great and we're havin' fun learnin' in Seekerville.

Oops, almost forgot the cookies...

Jumbo chocolate chip cookies, with or without pecans.


Julie Lessman said...

JANET!!! Forgot to tell Shirley that her excerpt reeled me in like a bass on a hula grub!! Another book for my TBR list for sure!


Lyn Cote said...

Scene and sequel are my daily routine. GRIN
I have found that I also use instead of the term Disaster, often I use a surprise. Sometimes it isn't a bad development just a startling one.
I never used Bickam for this. I used straight Swain.

Pepper Basham said...

My toes are hurting after that list of pitfalls.

But what a great step by step at looking at a scene, especially ending with disaster.

That's good to remember.
I seem to have that going on with my YA fantasy, but I need to figure out how to have a better zing with those scene endings in my contemps.

I love it when authors show characterization through dialogue, which immediately picks up the pace in the scene and weaves the overarching goal of the scene within it.
Thanks so much for the post, Janet.
and what a FATASTIC excerpt from Shirley's book!!

Janet Dean said...

Hi Kav,

There are no stupid questions. Thanks for asking for clarification of sequel. In this instance, sequel isn't the next book in a series. Sequel is the POV character's reaction to the disaster at the end of the previous scene, his introspection--what he's feeling, thinking, planning. During the sequel the character comes to grips with what happened and decides on a new plan that will help him reach his story-length goal since his previous plan blew up in his face. Or so he feels. This isn't a mini-scene because a scene is story action happening now. Sequel is reviewing the action of the scene and reaching a decision on how to proceed. Does that make sense?


Janet Dean said...

Gina, you make a fabulous point. Sprinking in introspection during the scene with the POV character's thoughts and feelings is a great way to make the sequel less drawn out and redundant. The way sequel is handled depends on the story, the character and the author but generally, long passages of sequel slow the pace and can annoy the reader as you were. I like my characters to make the decision about what to do next after the scene, but suspense stories may require a protagonist to decide what to do next in the scene itself. Craft isn't hard and fast in the hands of an experienced writer but it's important to understand story elements like scene and sequel.


Janet Dean said...

Julie, thanks for going into detail about how you write the emotions your characters are feeling. You do a beautiful job of showing emotion in your stories. I especially love how you use physical actions to show what your characters are feeling. Those in your face clashes between the hero and heroines leave my heart pumping.


Janet Dean said...

Myra, you did a great job highlighting the differences between scene and sequel. I knew Swain was Bickham's mentor. I just happened to pull Bickham's book to review. :-)

SOTP or plotters I believe writers who use scene and sequel won't have stories that feel episodic.


Janet Dean said...

Go for it, Kav!!!! Keep us posted!


Janet Dean said...

Ruthy, I ate lunch with my grandkids. If I'd known BBQ was on the menu, I'd have waited! Even so, the aroma of the sauce is driving me crazy.


Janet Dean said...

Julie, happy Shirley's excerpt reeled you in like the good fisherman she is. Hey, all good storytellers are fishermen. :-)


Janet Dean said...

Thanks for stopping in, Lyn! Your career is proof that knowing craft brings success. I like the term surprise. The disaster or surprise is unexpected, yet logical.


Janet Dean said...

Hi Pepper. Sorry about those aching toes. I didn't mean for you to fall in to my pitfalls. :-)

Dialogue is a terrific tool for showing character and moving the story forward. Yet dialogue doesn't always show how a character is really feeling. He can say one thing and feel another. That's where introspection before dialogue lets the reader in on what's going on. Who doesn't love being an insider?


Cara Lynn James said...

Janet, great post. Scene and Sequel is one of my favorite books because it's so helpful. Before I read it yrs. ago when I first started writing I had no idea about structuring scenes. I always go back to the elements of scene when my writing seems flat.

Debby Giusti said...

I needed your refresher course. Now to relook my current WIP. Doubt I've stated my POV character's goal in each scene. YIKES!!! More work!!! :)

Loved reading Shirley's excerpt. She's great!

Can't wait to see you in Orlando! Thanks for the much needed review today.

Sandra Leesmith said...

wow, Janet, This is a keeper. Needed to hear those points for first scene. Since my scene lacks one of those points. LOL


Anonymous said...

a great posting...i always learn so much...thanks for the chance to read this fabulous novel :)

kmkuka at yahoo dot com

Tina Russo Radcliffe said...

Okay, who swiped my Dwight Bickham.

Wow what a full blown lesson this was.

Thanks, Janet. Printing this out.

Janet Dean said...

Thanks Cara. Great idea to go back to the elements of scene when the writing isn't up to par. I'll remember that tip.


Janet Dean said...

Can't wait to see you at RWA, too, Debby!!

I'm used to asking for what I want so my characters have no problem with stating their goals either.


Janet Dean said...

Hey, Sandra your sale proves you know how to please an editor! The reader that counts. :-) Congrats again!


Janet Dean said...

Hi Karen, Thanks for your lovely comments and your interest in Shirley's book!


Janet Dean said...

Thanks, Tina. Seems like every time I study craft, I see something more clearly. Maybe one day I'll have it down pat. In the meantime, I love my cheatsheets.


cynthia said...

I think scene and sequel is one of the hardest parts of writing as a beginning writer right now. Sometimes for my sequel I end up telling more than showing or I give more detail than is needed--especially at the beginning of my stories. This is something that I need to continue to work on.

I enjoyed the excerpt from "Vegas Pregnancy Surprise." I love the stories that she writes. Please enter me in the book drawing.
cynthiakchow (at) earthlink (dot) net

Janet Dean said...

Cynthia, In the early days I had issues with most everything so you're doing great! I continue to need to work on scene and sequel and need to be especially alert for telling. It's so easy to do!

Thanks for your interest in Vegas Pregnancy Surprise. You're in the drawing!


Gaylelynnm said...

Excellent example of perfection. Not only is the goal stated but as a reader I WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS. Did not mean to shout but now I must have the book. lol

I wrote a 269,000 word book before I discovered Scenes and Sequels and Motivation-Reaction units. My scenes had points to the them and they moved the story to the ending, but they did not have a goal. Big difference! Also I really failed at the Sequel part. I am not bad at the Motivation-Reaction units, but the Reations are not always put in the right order.

Here is hoping I get the chance to read and study Vegas Pregnancy Surprise. I think I like Linc all ready (pretty normal guy) but I know there will be disasters galore.


Donald said...

I've read a log of fiction, and I have a really big problem identifying scenes and sequels.

Given Sue Grafton's A is for Alibi, would anyone be kind enough to point out a scene and sequel.


Bad Horse said...

Donald, the problem is that good stories don't usually use scene and sequel in the simple, stereotypical way Bickham presents it. There are multiple complications:

1. First, the "Scene" in scene+sequel has nothing whatsoever to do with scenes in a story (continuous narrative without jumps in location, time, or POV). A Scene may contain many scenes, or a scene may contain many Scenes.

2. Scene+sequel are used hierarchically, not just sequentially. The entire book is a single Scene+Sequel structure which ends in goal satisfaction. Roughly each chapter is a smaller scene+sequel, and each chapter is made of many yet smaller and more vaguely-scene+sequel like structures. The low-level scenes seldom have the complete scene+sequel structure; chapter-size units are more likely to, but are interrupted by smaller structures.

3. The formula is written for a single-protagonist story. Great books often don’t fit that pattern.

4. Each character in the story has their own scene+sequel structure, and these overlap with each other. The "antagonist" will be having their own scene+sequel, and its Disaster may play a different part in the protagonist's scene+sequel.

5. Most Disasters are merely Setbacks. Using Disasters all the time is a formula for writing bad action novels like Jack Bickham wrote. Seriously, buy some of his books & read 'em before you take his advice. They're bad.

6. Point-of-view restrictions often prevent describing a characters' goals.

7. Characters often don't know what their Goals are, and the plot of the novel involves the search for or disentangling of these Goals. This is often the case in literary fiction.

8. The scene+sequel components often aren’t presented to the reader in chronological order.

9. The pattern is more general than Swain or Bickham say it is. Instead of a Setback you may have an Opportunity which leads to abandoning a Goal. Within an overarching scene+sequel, you may find the smaller structures have Discoveries or other Advances instead of Setbacks, which move the main character further forward toward their goal.

All in all, the structure is IMHO not as useful as just asking yourself 2 questions at all times: “What motivates each of my characters here?”, and, “What motivates my reader to keep reading?”

I wrote a more-detailed write-up of this on my blog, here.