Monday, August 5, 2013

Scene and Sequel, Part 2: Sequel

On July 22, I discussed the first part of this technique as outlined by Elizabeth Lyon and Jack Bickham.

In this formula, “scene” is different from the way we usually define it. A scene is a segment of story ACTION or CONFLICT.

Remember: Scene conflict has to be on the outside. It CANNOT be internal. It should be able to be acted out on stage. Now this is not to say that there should be no internal conflict. There should be—lots.

This is where Sequel comes in. Again, the definition is not what we usually think of as a sequel, like book two of a trilogy or Rocky II or Harry Potter #5. Following our Action/Conflict Scene, Sequel refers to a character’s REACTION to the scene. This allows us to deal in depth with the character’s emotions, motivation, and to show his thought processes as he analyzes his plight and makes future plans. The Sequel is the glue that holds scenes together and helps you get from one to the next.

A Sequel begins the moment a Scene ends. Struck by a tactical disaster, a failure, the character is plunged into a period of sheer emotion, followed by a period of thought, which results in forming a new, goal-oriented decision, which in turn results in some action toward the new goal just selected.

Sequel is often entirely internal, characterized by feeling and logic and can span great chunks of time. The transition from emotion to thought can be quick or it can be marked by numerous relapses into pure emotion again. But after awhile, rational processes start percolating again and the character moves from emotion into thought. Sequel also can be accomplished through dialogue with another character.

Remember the rules of stimulus and reaction or cause and effect:
 Stimulus: Joe threw the ball to Sam.
 Response: Sam caught it. “Sure is a nice day to play catch.” (another stimulus. Now Joe has to respond).

Not: Joe turned after hearing the gunshot.
Do: Hearing the gunshot, Joe turned.
This is, of course, an extremely simple example of cause and effect, but you get the picture.

You can also have stimulus, internalization, then response:
Stimulus: “Nancy,” the chairman said, “we have decided to make you a vice president of the firm.”
Internalization: Nancy reeled with shock. She had come to this meeting expecting a demotion. Instead, they were offering her the job she had always dreamed of. But only an hour ago she had signed on with Acme Co., and couldn’t back out on that contract. Just when she had everything she had ever wanted in her grasp, she had to leave Zilch Corp.
Response: “Oh no. How could I have such bad luck?” Without the internalization, her response would make no sense at all.

Sequel consists of: 
1. Emotion
2. Thought: review; analysis—what this means to character’s hopes, dreams; quandary over what to do
3. A decision: Planning, considers options, discards some
4. Action based on the decision: a new short-term goal (and that leads us into the next Scene).

To review Over-all Outer Scene (Scene and Sequel) structure:
1. Select one character as the star of the scene (one POV).
2. Let your POV character reveal, repeat, or make obvious his/her outer goal or intention.
3. Show your char. in action, pursuing that goal.
4. Oppose those efforts with antagonists or other obstacles.
5. Show your character regrouping, developing a new strategy to reach this same goal, then taking action to succeed.
6. Oppose this action.
7. Regroup, new strategy.
8. Oppose—and so forth as many times as your story demands.
9. Show your character reaching the goal or knowing that he/she will not be able to
10. End the scene with a reversal related to the story goal—a disaster, twist or surprise.

Not every chapter or segment of your story NEEDS the scene/sequel structure nor should it be. We don’t want to spend too much time in the character’s head. You can have one action scene follow another, without going into the sequel or reaction scene. Or you can follow an action scene with a couple of sequels (for example if you have more than one POV character, you can get into each one’s reaction in a separate sequel).

What do you think of this Scene and Sequel technique?

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.


  1. You give a good example with the character who got the unexpected raise which then led to another dilemma. Readers want to know how a character reacts and what choices they make. The 'sequel' structures gives readers the opportunity to follow along. When I'm writing, I tend to simplify to "OK, so now what?" because I don't plot in advance.

    Terry's Place

  2. Chris read the post with interest. "What can all this mean?" He reread it and, much to his chagrin, came to the conclusion, "This is way beyond me ... it's like when Mr. Munson tried to explain trigonometry to me ... he asked if I understood, I said 'yes', but shook my head 'no'."

  3. It seems that a lot of books written at least 30 years ago use your scene/sequel technique but many recently written books just go from action scene to action scene one after another.
    Can you recommend recent authors or books that you think use your technique effectively?
    thank you
    --searching for that heart of scenes

    1. I think you're right in that these day, the story won't hold while the character stops and has a lot of internal thoughts. These days the sequel is layered right in with the next action, but the technique is still valid, and reminds us we must show the character's reaction to an event so that it pushes him into formulating a new plan.

  4. This has been a good reminder of the importance of having action and reaction, which is the heart of drama. I learned a lot about that via acting and directing. When something happens on stage, characters need to react.

    The first time scene and sequel were explained to me, I didn't understand it fully, but I kept thinking that sequel had to be as long as scene. What I learned was that sequel can be any length it needs to be - even one sentence - but it should come after the scene.

    I just finished reading a published book in which the author did a bit of sequel right in the middle of the action scene, and that really stopped me cold.

  5. Great job encapsulating this again, Heidi! I give half-day workshops on this and don't say it nearly as well as you just did :)

  6. I discovered this technique by accident when I wrote my first book. After failing to make my characters fit into the molds I had created for them, I backed off and let them tell me their stories, To my surprise, they stepped up off the page as three-dimensional beings and shared their lives, their experiences, their thoughts, and their feelings, scene/sequel style. Ever since then, I've employed this structure to make my stories real and to give my characters depth.

    Nice piece, Heidi. This is a keeper.


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