Thanks for having me back to Seekerville again. I had a blast when I was here last time with my awesome friend and critique partner Melissa Jagears, but I’m flying solo today. Kind of scary, though I’ll try to make do. (And thanks to Ruthy for hosting me!)
Okay, I want to get a little technical today and talk about Sequels. (You know, the annoying things that come after Scenes, in which your characters need to react to the disaster that just happened.) If I’ve lost any of you, head on over to Advanced Fiction Writing and check out this article. Then come back here for the rest of my post. Otherwise you’ll be totally lost.
As a reminder for the rest of us, here’s a brief summary of the whole Scene-Sequel thing:
After your character either does something bad or has something bad happen to him/her, your character needs to react to the situation.
It’s not that hard of a concept and happens all the time in real life. Take, for example, this scene from my house over the summer:
Innocently trying to make dinner for my family, I reach for the carton of eggs in the refrigerator, only to find a big fat worm on top of the carton and three other big fat worms inside my egg carton. (This is the action or “Scene” part that ends in disaster.)
Now it’s time for the reaction or “Sequel.”
I squeal. I fling the worm that’s now slithering up my hand onto the floor, and I scream for my oldest son. “Nathanael!!! Why are there worms in my refrigerator???”
“Oh, I think Daddy put the left over fishing worms in there. Maybe the container spilled.”
“Get them out of my house. Now! And then go get Daddy!!!”
A few minutes later my husband tromps into the house . . . I’ll just let you guess how my reaction went from there.
Now, I just provided you with a rather interesting and comical reaction (or “Sequel” if you want to use that word). But in writing, reactions aren’t always so interesting. In fact, it often takes intentional work and effort to have those scenes be interesting—especially if you’re writing genre fiction that has certain predictable patterns.
Have you ever found yourself skimming part of a novel? I’m 90% sure that was a reaction scene that you skimmed. There’s no new action and a lot of introspection that goes along with this part of a story, hence the skimming. You’ve all read the scenes where the heroine stares longingly out the window dreaming of the hero. It’s nice, sweet, and rather boring since nothing more happens.
Your novel does need time for characters to react to what’s happening in the story, but the hard part comes in making those reaction interesting. This is why I often fuse my action scenes with my characters’ reactions. Instead of having a separate Action/Disaster—Reaction/Dilemma sequence, I usually put my Reaction/Dilemmas into the next action scene
Now I can almost see some of you crafting geniuses palming tomatoes and getting ready to throw them at the computer. Admittedly, I am no crafting genius. I struggle to read through a single craft book and only claim to have read two in their entirety. I’m a much bigger proponent of trial and error, asking myself (and my crit partner) what works for the story, and analyzing everything to death as I go along writing.
This is probably why, when I first attempted to try the whole Scene/Sequel thing, I found myself hacking apart my Sequels (reactions) as I reread my story. They were boring. They dragged. Nothing new was happening. So, I decided to be a little daring and fuse the two together (Okay. Not really. I’m lying here. What happened was I wrote some scenes that I thought were interesting, and it turned out they had both actions and reactions together. After about a dozen of them, I finally noticed the pattern. Yes, I can be that dense sometimes. Don’t believe me? Just ask my hubby.)
Here’s an example from my newest novel, The Wyoming Heir. The heroine is in the headmistresses office, being questioned about how she was seen alone with the hero over the weekend. Little does the headmistress know about the kiss Luke and Elizabeth shared . . .
“But you are aware of Hayes’s policy regarding teachers courting?” Miss Bowen’s tight-laced voice echoed loudly against office’s sparse walls. “A chaperone is to be present at all times.”
“Yes. A chaperone.” Elizabeth licked her lips, as though she could still feel the firm pressure of Luke’s mouth against hers, the way the stubble on his jaw brushed her chin.
Which was why a chaperone was needed—to prevent situations like that. Her cheeks burned, and she glanced away from the headmistress. “M-Mr. Hayes was only being gentlemanly. Being from Wyoming, he’s not exactly aware of society’s rules about chaperones and propriety and such. But I assure you, he didn’t have any ill intentions.” Except for the kiss. That exquisite, wonderful kiss. One which would likely remain unparalleled for the rest of her life.
At least she’d have something to give her sweet memories when she was eighty.
“You do remember the Code of Conduct you signed when first agreeing to teach at Hayes?”
“Yes, ma’am.” The document had been fifteen pages of painstakingly small rules. True, she couldn’t recall every minute detail, but the chaperone one had probably been in there. “What’s to be done then? Do you need to inform the board?”
“I should. Our procedures ask that the board be notified in these types of situations.” Miss Bowen sighed and repositioned her glasses on her nose. “Though your mother’s illness did bring about some extenuating and unforeseen circumstances. I trust she has recovered?”
The moisture leeched from her throat. “Yes, quite.”
“Well, then, since nothing inappropriate happened between you and Mr. Hayes…”
Her heart pounded. Nothing inappropriate? She’d hardly call that kiss “nothing inappropriate,” but then Miss Bowen wasn’t asking for confirmation so much as assuming the best.
Did you notice all those thoughts about Elizabeth kissing Luke over the weekend? That was my character’s reaction--interspersed with being lectured by her boss.
This is how you make reactions interesting, by putting your character’s reaction into the next scene. At the completely wrong time. In the most annoying and aggravating way possible.
*Note: Sometimes you need your characters to be alone and think, especially when they’re about to decide something really, really big. I’m not dogmatically stating you have to strip every standalone reaction from your novel. But at the same time, every little response doesn’t need it’s full-out scene either.
Think about it. Is it more interesting to have your heroine realize she loves your hero when she’s standing alone in a bedroom, or when she’s having an argument with the oaf? Or being chased by bad guys with guns. Or staring into the face of the hero’s mother who’s bound and determined to have the hero marry a beautiful, rich socialite?
So the assignment for today: Go to your WIP and search for a place where you can combine your character’s reactions with the next scene from the story. Play around, have a little fun, and then come back here and tell me what you think in the comments. ;-)
I’ll be giving away one copy of The Wyoming Heir to a commenter (winner’s choice of paper or ebook).
And hey, a head's up to everyone!!!
All next week I'm doing a big cowboy picnic giveaway on my Inspirational Romance Ratings blog!!!
Here's the LINK!!!! (note that Ruthy made the link Big Enough To Notice!!!)
And here's a little bit about Naomi's latest book release:
The Wyoming Heir
Given a choice, Luke Hayes wouldn't ever leave his Wyoming ranch. Yet when his estranged grandfather dies, leaving him everything, he'll travel to Valley Falls, New York—but only to collect his sister and his inheritance. He won't be roped into saving a floundering girls' school, no matter what mathematics teacher Elizabeth Wells says.
Elizabeth has defied social convention and her own family for the sake of her beloved Hayes Academy. Luke is pure rancher, from the tip of his Stetson to the scuff on his boots, yet he's also becoming her unlikely ally. Only he can help save her job and school…but how much will she lose when the time comes for him to leave?
To learn more about Naomi and her novels, visit her website at www.NaomiRawlings.com.