How To Master Scenes And Sequels
Our lives are made up of scenes and sequels. We live through times of action and periods of reflection. Some periods of our lives seem completely action-packed and others are relatively conflict-free.
Novels are also made up of these storytelling units. As I wrote in a previous post:
- Action scenes are ‘…where your characters act. They mostly plan, seduce, argue, escape, search, meet, talk, pursue and investigate in scenes.’
- Sequels are ‘ …where your characters react. They think, reflect, process, rest, accept, and make peace in sequels. Sequels are also used to establish setting, reveal backstory, and show theme.’
Tip: We can even break our days up into these units. A good writing exercise is to break up a day in your life into periods of action and periods of reflection.
Breaking Down The Numbers
Human beings are hard-wired to respond to conflict, especially if it is vicarious, so it makes sense that successful books are made up of two or three scenes to every one sequel.
- An average book is 365 pages long.
- We can work on including 70 scenes and sequels in every book we write.
- If we use the ratio mentioned above, we will have approximately 50 scenes (action units) for every 20 sequels (reaction units) we write.
- Scenes are longer, generally 1200-1500 words.
- Sequels are shorter, generally 300-800 words.
These are obviously only guidelines, but they are useful if you want a framework on which to build your plot. It is also easier when you can break up a book into these bite-sized chunks.
In Four Parts
Over the next four weeks, I am going to write about mastering scenes and sequels.
- In today’s post, I will explain the basics of scenes and sequels.
- In the second post, I will explain the anatomy of a scene.
- In the third post, I will explain the anatomy of a sequel.
- In the fourth post, I will include templates to help you plot these units.
10 Important Things To Remember About Scenes And Sequels
1. There has to be a purpose. Every scene and sequel in your book should have a purpose. The purpose of every scene and sequel should, in some way, make it easier for your protagonist to achieve his or her story goal. In an ideal world these scenes and sequels should show character and move the plot forward. Ask yourself these questions:
- Why do I need this scene?
- Does this scene reveal anything new about a character or the story?
- Am I repeating something?
- Is there a better way to reveal this information?
- What is the benefit for the characters and the reader?
2. Every conflict must be believable. Avoid including conflict for conflict’s sake. Like any good crime, if your characters are going to have an argument or a fight, you need to show means, motivation, and opportunity. Remember that fiction is not as aimless as reality. It must make sense if you want the story to have substance.
3. Show. Don’t tell. If there are two characters in the scene or sequel, use dialogue and actions to tell the story. If the character is alone, let him or her act while he or she is thinking. [Read 60 Things For Your Characters To Do When They Talk Or Think]
4. Tell when you need to tell. Sometimes the scene is too exciting or too intense to show. This is a good time to tell us what is going on. [Read: 5 Instances When You Need To Tell]
5. Beginnings, Middles, Endings. Every scene should have a beginning and an end. The muddle in the middle is important too. In next week’s post, I will talk about scene goals, conflicts, and failures. Remember that you can’t have happy endings at the end of each unit. If you did this, you would have no story to tell.
6. Try to set the scene. Use emotions and physical descriptions to create a mood for your scene or sequel. Let your character react to the setting using the five senses. If you want to create a bleak scene with a character in despair, you can set it in a bleak setting. Alternatively, you can place the character in a happy setting, and allow his or her reactions to the happiness to reveal his or her true emotional state.
7. Create friction-free transitions. We do not have to know everything a character does and thinks between scenes and sequels. It would be agonisingly boring if we did.
8. Use cliffhangers. Risk a bit of melodrama. When it is appropriate, make your readers wonder what will happen next. They should not be able to put the book down. You can do this by:
- Leaving the viewpoint character with a decision to make.
- Setting a timer.
- Revealing new information.
- Adding a twist.
- Asking a question.
9. Pacing is important. Don’t overdose with too much action or too much reflection. Do not include dialogue just because you think you need more white space. As a rule, action scene follows action scene. Use your sequels when your characters and readers need a break. [Read: All About Pacing]
10. Involve your protagonist in every scene. This does not mean he or she has to be present in the scene or sequel, but the other characters should reference this character in some way. If you do this, your story will not get side-tracked.
Look out for next week’s post: The Anatomy Of A Scene