A scene is a moment of forward action. A character takes an action, and it succeeds or fails. A sequel is a moment of meditation. A character is reeling from the aftermath of an action, and now has to take a moment, think about what happened, and decide what to do next.
Scenes naturally lead to sequels, and sequels naturally lead to new scenes. Together they can build a novel, just by themselves.
So, let’s talk about them a minute. In this post we will discuss scenes. In the next, we’ll handle sequels.
In many ways, a “scene” and a “sequel” are just titles. We sort of tack the monikers on our writing after we’re done with them. But it does help to think of those titles, if only to give your story a sense of motion.
Let’s work through the process of scenes briefly.
Thanks to the work you did on the elevator pitch, you have a goal for your main character. A scene is one of the steps he or she takes toward accomplishing that goal. If she wants to buy a house, a scene would be going to a bank and applying for a loan. If he wants to defeat a dragon, a scene would be finding someone to train him. Important thing to realize is that things rarely work out for your protagonists the way they wish…in fact, there is exactly one time things might do so (the climax). At EVERY OTHER POINT IN YOUR STORY there is some wrinkle to their attempt. Either their attempt fails, or succeeds but with complications. This is a good thing. If stuff worked exactly the way they wanted, the story would be over.
Consider the lady buying the house. If the first bank she tries just gives her the loan, she’d move in right away and the story would essentially be over. But if some new wrinkle happens, the story can continue.
These generally fall into four answer types:
This is the weakest of the answers. Of course, sometimes in a story you need something to just work out. This answer allows you to add new information, or a different complication to change the course of the story.
For the lady buying the house, it would be something like: she get’s the loan…and the banker is attractive enough to get her mind thinking naughty things about him. The rest of the story is either a romance…or some sort of erotic thriller (after all, what might her husband think?). The trouble with the house–while not overly important to the general thrust of the story–becomes the catalyst for action to move in a different direction.
This answer is generally the one you want for positive steps. Things work out, more or less, but not quite as well as they could have. Some complication has arisen and made future action more difficult.
Our lady buying the house may get her loan, but it’s not as big as she would like, or forces her to move into a scary part of town. Or she learns her dream house is haunted (and suddenly the thrust of the story changes entirely).
Nothing spurs someone to action faster than a door slammed in their face. And “no” is a wonderful door slam, regardless of the circumstance. “No” forces your character to take stock of their actions and either try again, or change their approach entirely.
The lady does NOT get her loan. Do not pass go, do not make a downpayment. What will she do now? Will she try another bank? Or maybe start looking for other ways to make money?
“No, and furthermore…”
The strongest of responses and the best for making your protagonists miserable. “No, and furthermore” is a double-whammy. Not only did their plan not work, they discovered a new problem which complicates forward action elsewhere.
The lady does NOT get her loan, because her credit score is a LOT lower than it ought to be. There won’t be a bank in the city willing to approve her with those numbers. So what now? The legitimate options are all denied to her…maybe she should try something less than legal? Or maybe she should track down why her credit sucks. It all depends on the story. The point being, there are now more things she has to worry about.
But enough about that for now. Next week we’ll tackle “sequels” and give your character something to think about.
Until then, keep writing.