Friday, January 8, 2016

The Best of the Archives: Pitfalls with Scene and Sequel

Janet  here. I’m celebrating the release of my January Love Inspired Historical The Bounty Hunter’s Redemption now available online and on store shelves! 

Staking his claim

Recently widowed Carly Richards is shocked when a bounty hunter declares her seamstress shop belongs to his sister. But Nate Sergeant has proof—the deed her lawless husband gambled away without her knowledge. Now Carly must fight for her home and her son’s future. And until a judge arrives to settle ownership, she’s not budging…despite Nate’s surprisingly kind demeanor—and dashing good looks.

Nate’s faced the meanest outlaws in the land—but this petite, strong-willed seamstress may be his greatest challenge. He owes his sister his life, so he’s determined she’ll have the property that’s legally hers. But as Nate and Carly battle for ownership, Nate realizes there’s something he overlooked—the hope of building a family with Carly and her adorable son. 

Okay the commercial is over. Welcome to another Best of the Archives Friday! This post first appeared in July 15, 2010. Grab a cup of coffee and lets dig into scene and sequel, an important craft technique that can be laden with pitfalls.

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, I’ll be talking about this important element of story using Jack Bickham’s Scene and Structure. 

Story begins when the protagonist is jarred out of his comfort zone with a change that threatens his 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. Scenes are the blocks of story that enable us to do that.

Scene is a segment of physical story action in the now. Bickham suggests the following pattern for scenes that will move the story forward:

1.   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 the scene. 

2.   Introduce and develop conflict and compromise. Keep the action in the moment and ensure the character’s goal is opposed in the scene by a villain or antagonist with strong motivation to thwart the protagonist’s goal.

Opposition doesn't come merely from villains
3.   End the scene with disaster. It should not be a random act of violence or what we think of as a typical disaster such as an earthquake or injury unless they fit and are disastrous for the point of view character's goal. A “yes, but” or a “no, and furthermore” dilemma that’s unanticipated, yet is a logical development that sets the character back. The disaster is a small part of the scene. Failure to reach his goal raises the stakes for the character and gives readers reason to worry and sympathize.

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

Pitfalls with writing action scenes:

Pitfall #1—The writer creates a scene with the purpose of showing something about the character. When this happens the goal for the scene is the writer’s, not the character’s. Instead we can show the character’s attributes while the character is working toward the
Pointless scenes are sometimes called tea scenes
goal. If the character doesn’t have a goal, the scene is pointless and should be scrapped.

Pitfall #2—The POV character’s scene goal doesn’t relate to the book-length goal. When this happens the scenes feel episodic. Sort of like viewing a string of sit coms, each one cute but unrelated to each other. Ever had that problem? When the immediate goal relates to the book-length goal the story will flow.

A bounty hunter needs to take action if he
hopes to capture the bad guy.
Pitfall #3—Forgetting to have the character state his goal at the onset of the scene, 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 at the end of the scene at the expense of showing whether the character got his goal or not and how this is a disaster for him.

Let’s move on to Sequel.

Bickham says sequel begins for the Point of View character the moment the scene ends. After the disaster the POV character is flooded with emotion. Emotion leads to thought. Thought leads to a decision. Decision leads to a step toward a new immediate goal (that fits the book-length goal) and a new action. That pattern keeps the story flowing and ensures the story 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 disastr scene, or at the beginning of the next scene or during the disaster in the character's introspection.

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? How did you react?

Thought/Review: Once the character has reacted with emotion, he gets rational enough to remember his story-length goal and to think about his new problem.

Analysis: Show the character as he plans and considers his options.

Decision: The character makes a new immediate goal that will help him obtain his story-length goal. In other words, he decides what he will do next, what action he will take, which leads to the new active scene.

A good storyteller shows, not just tells.
Pitfalls with writing sequels:

Pitfall #1—Telling emotion instead of showing how the character is feeling. 

Pitfall #2—Using the wrong amount of thought and analysis. Too much will slow the pace. Too little and the reader doesn’t feel the impact of the disaster.

Pitfall #3—Having things just happen to characters, making them victims, instead of my characters making new plans that drive the action.

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