On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Writing the Sequel and My Magical Cheat Sheet for the Scene / Sequel Dyad.

Guys, I apologize. Blogger is not recognizing my returns and has run this into a big block of text. %^#&#$^#$ Technically speaking, the building block of a story is the scene-sequel unit. This is an oversimplification of course, but the scene/sequel dyad can be thought of as developing outer action (scene) and then inner response (sequel). From Tuesday's column, I hope I made it clear that every scene has to have a point or a development or a movement of some sort -- otherwise you should cut it. The scenes move the story forward. The sequel, on the other hand, develops the emotional range of the characters and allows the reader to bond with them. They describe the character's reaction to the disaster (YES BUT or NO AND FURTHERMORE) that you described in the previous scene. Both scenes and sequels are necessary. Writers often are tempted to leave out sequels because "they don't do much," but this isn't true. If you exclude sequels in your writing, your story will zip along but won't have the depth that readers crave. Scenes quicken the story pace, whereas sequels slow it down. This principle can help you pace your story. Depending on your story genre, you may wish to write long or short sequels. Occasionally you can leave them out, but most of the time it should be: SCENE-SEQUEL-SCENE-SEQUEL-SCENE-SEQUEL. Usually I don't bother with an entire chapter of sequel, although I make sure I have at least a paragraph or so after each event. The beauty of the sequel is that it naturally leads into your next scene. If you're a pantster, organizing your sequels gives you the direction you need for the next block of action. OK, let's go over my Magical Cheat Sheet for the Scene and the Sequel. I put one of these two outlines at the top of my page, as appropriate, before I begin to write my chapter. The first outline I wrote about on Tuesday, but let me repeat it here: Scene Outline: POV: GOAL: CONFLICT: DISASTER: POV -- whose head are you in for this chapter? This assumes you're writing in third person limited. GOAL -- what does your POV character want to accomplish? State it in one clear sentence: Tom knew he had to find the macguffin before Peter did, and he only had a five minute head start. Put this sentence word for word near the top of your chapter (or at the end of the previous sequel if you put the dyad back to back without interspersing another character's scene). It allows your reader to focus on the point of the scene and stay engaged. CONFLICT -- this comprises the major portion of your scene. Conflict occurs when your POV character must struggle against obstacles to complete his goal, and remember, NEVER MAKE IT EASY ON YOUR HERO (or any character). Obstacles can be internal or external. Quickly list a few ideas for obstacles. Try to think of at least four, not that you have to use them all, but it's nice to have them if you need them. DISASTER -- for the good guys, this scene should usually end badly -- a YES BUT or a NO AND FURTHERMORE ending (see Tuesday). For the bad guys, you usually want this scene to end happily for them since this will further complicate your hero's life. You can mix things up a bit, but don't diverge too much. The Sequel tends to be shorter. It describes the character's reaction to the previous scene's disaster. These can be a few lines, or strung out for an entire chapter. I occasionally will have a whole-chapter sequel but rarely, because emoting held on for too long is boring. Sequel Outline: EMOTION: THOUGHT: DECISION: ACTION: This order is easy to remember, if you think about how you respond to something surprising. Say your tree hits a pole and you're fine but your car's a wreck. First, (Emotion) you're scared thinking about what could have happened and angry at the guy who cut you off and has since disappeared. Next, (Thought) you start analyzing the situation: you didn't catch the guy's license, and you're worried because the car's going to be in the shop for a few days and how are you going to get around? But (Decision) you can't stay here forever. You decide that right now you need to get out of the car and call the triple A on your cell phone for a tow to your favorite body shop. And so (Action) you reach to open the car door. Your character will go through a similar process when dealing with his scene disaster. EMOTION -- he's angry/sad/frustrated/worried. He may be shocked if it was a stunning, unexpected disaster. THOUGHT -- he starts thinking logically about what happened, and evaluates his options. It's best to present him with a dilemma or trilemma: all bad options, and he has to consider each alternative. Explain why each is bad, and the advantages and disadvantages for each. DECISION -- your character decides what he's going to do. Explain WHY as well as WHAT he will do. This can be your lead-in hook sentence for the next scene. ACTION -- occasionally you can carry out the sequel to the point that the character starts to move to do the next action, although you can also end the sequel at the DECISION stage. * OK, hope this is helpful. Even if you're a pantster, the five minutes it takes to plan your scene or sequel is well worth the effort in avoiding writer's block.

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