“Scene and sequel” doesn’t have to be mysterious writer talk. This simple formula will help you create the lean exciting plotlines readers crave. By mastering this technique, you can cut out all the dead weight and unlock your story’s true potential.
What is Scene and Sequel?
Scene and sequel is a popular technique for creating a logical sequence of cause an effect in novels. This concept was first described by Dwight Swain in his Techniques of a Selling Writer (1965) In this book he breaks down a plot points into two halves.
In the scene, you have three parts: goal, conflict, and disaster. These provide the motivation for the characters. As you create your scene (which can also be described as action) make sure you can answer these three questions:
- Goal: What is the point-of-view (POV) character’s goal? In other words, what does she want at the beginning of the scene, or what is she trying to accomplish? If your POV character doesn’t have a goal, you don’t have a scene. You have useless filler that isn’t going anywhere. Either give her a problem or move on to the moment she gets a problem.
- Conflict: What stands in the way? Your scene needs conflict. Without conflict, there is no story. No one wants to read about a woman picking up her kids in carpool. They want to read about a frazzled mom trying to get her kids to put on their damn seatbelts while she’s stuck on hold with the insurance and trying to mop the spit-up off the baby’s last clean outfit. See, conflict.
- Disaster: What are the results? Why must there be a disaster? If the character gets what she wants, the story is over.
The disaster can happen in two forms:
- The conflict resolved, but it’s caused a new problem.
- The conflict is unresolved, and the stakes have gotten higher
Yes, it must be one of these two options. If you don’t have a new problem, then the story is over. If you don’t raise the stakes, then the scene changed nothing and served no purpose in the story. If you do this correctly, then your scene will end with a dark moment/new question. You are now ready to begin your sequel.
The sequel is the POV character’s response to the new problem. It consists of three parts:
- POV Character’s Reaction: This is where your character shows his character. What is his initial response to the news? Does he mope? Run around smashing things? Does he shut down?
- Dilemma: In the dilemma, he thinks through the problem. If he stops now, what will happen?
- Decision: This is where he decides on a new course of action (external motivations) or learns something important (internal motivations.)
The sequel ends when the character has a new goal. This becomes the goal of the next scene. By following this sequence, your plot will flow in a logical pattern, and it will keep the story’s agency with your POV character.
Scene and Sequel example
In the movie Inside Out, the first pinch point occurs when Bing Bong loses his rocket. At the beginning of the scene portion,
- Joy’s goal is to make Bing Bong feel better so that they can continue their journey. She begins by taking action toward this goal: performing a silly dance.
- This goal meets with a conflict: Bing Bong is not a child so Joy’s silly behavior is ineffective.
- These result in a disaster: Sadness steps in to help, directly conflicting with Joy’s belief that happiness is always best. Here, we see the three parts of the scene coming together to create the pinch point for Joy’s lie.
The sequel also has three parts: reaction, dilemma, and decision.
- First, she will react: Joy was surprised when Sadness was more effective.
- Then, she will have a dilemma: Joy isn’t sure why Sadness succeeded when she failed. (This conflicts with her lie.)
- The sequel ends with her decision to ask Sadness “How did you do that?”
This shows that Joy is beginning her process of changing her lie.
Scene and Sequel work together as a single unit. One builds to the next, establishing a chain of causes that leads the reader through the character’s story. They are two sides of the same coin. Bring them together and make them both work for you.
This article was inspired by Secrets of the Selling Writer (1965) by Dwight Swain available here (Affiliate link)
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