How To Make The Most Of Sequels In Short Stories

How To Make The Most Of Sequels In Short Stories


In a previous post, I discussed scenes in short stories. Scenes have specific structures that help us tell our stories. We discussed action scenes specifically. There is, however, another kind of scene that you can use. We call them sequels or reaction scenes. They follow an action scene.

Sequels in short stories

The sequel is the part where the character deals with the emotional impact of the action scene. In the action scene we have goal, conflict and disaster. The disaster is the hanger that propels us in to the next scene. Not all action scenes are followed by reaction scenes. You must decide if it is needed.

Reaction scenes slow down the story and give the character, and the reader, a chance to catch their breath and to regroup. There are less reaction scenes, about 20 sequels/reaction scenes to 40 action scenes, in a novel of about 80 000 words.

A simple formula for a short story is: Scene, Sequel, Scene. If you stick to the prescribed lengths (Scenes: 1200-1500 words and Sequels: 500-800 words) you can end up with a story of about 2900 – 3800 words.

Remember that the rules have relaxed a lot and you can lengthen and shorten scenes to suit your story. For example, fast paced action stories may have almost only action scenes and only a few lines for a sequel.

The length of your story will also dictate a lot of this. For a 500-word flash fiction piece or even a 1200-word story you may not need more than one scene.

The structure of a sequel looks something like this:

  1. Reaction: This is the emotional part. They are angry, sad or happy. They need to deal with this emotion so that they can move on to the dilemma.
  2. Dilemma: The hanger or disaster from the action scene has caused a problem or situation that must be dealt with. Weigh up the options.
  3. Decision: Choose one of the options. This will give you your next scene goal for the action scene.

Sometimes it is broken into four parts, instead of three:  Emotion-Quandary-Decision-Action. But it still does the same thing.

In a short story, you can experiment a lot. You can write your whole story as a sequel, if your writing is engaging enough. This isn’t something I’d recommend for a whole novel, because readers prefer action, but you can certainly play around with shorter text.

You can join the 12 Short Stories Writing Challenge on the website and we will be announcing our competition details soon. Watch this blog.

If you want to learn how to write a short story, join us for Short Cuts.  If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.

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