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.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Organizing Your Scenes

When I write, I like to plan out the broad outlines of a chapter before I start in. I often end up changing it, mind you, but I at least start with a direction.

According to Jack Bickham in Elements of Writing Fiction: Scene and Structure, there are two units of story construction: a SCENE and a SEQUEL. Very roughly speaking, the scene follows the advancing plot, and the sequel describes the POV character's reaction to it. Bickham describes that all stories are beads of Scene-Sequel-Scene-Sequel, although many times the sequel can be pulled to speed up the action.

His thoughts on Scene/Sequel allowed me to develop a technique for planning each chapter. Here is what you can do:

At the top of the page, copy in this little outline:


POV stands for the point of view character, in whose head you will be writing from.

GOAL: what short-term goal will your POV character want to achieve within the next few pages? When writing the draft, you should have the character actually state his goal clearly close to the beginning.

CONFLICT: what obstacles will stand in the way of this goal? Obstacles can be both EXTERNAL (other people, physical obstacles) and INTERNAL (fears, worries, lack of knowledge). Come up with at least five conflicts. Even though you don't have to use all five when writing your draft, they prevent writers block -- if you become stuck, simply throw another problem at my poor POV character.

DISASTER: the scene should not end neatly. There are two types of endings that are helpful:

YES, BUT: in this ending your POV achieves his goal, but gets a problem as well. For example, if Jim's goal is to ask his boss for a raise, his boss replies, Yes Jim, but you must also work an extra twenty hours a week.

NO, AND FURTHERMORE: in this ending your POV does not achieve his goal, and furthermore gets more problems. For example, Jim's boss might say, No Jim you may not have a raise, and furthermore you're fired.

Two other types of endings are not helpful:

NO: This ending simply results in failure of the chapter goal. Since this ending does not advance the plot, any sequence ending in a "no" can and should be removed from the story.

YES: This ending stops the action cold.Not helpful.


For a sequel, post this outline at the top:


EMOTION: refers to the POV character's emotional state immediately following the previous scene. Is he frightened, worried, angry, desperate?

THOUGHT: once he's had some emotion, he's able to logically evaluate the circumstances.

DECISION: the character is in a bad situation, and must decide what he is going to do.

ACTION: He begins to do what he decided.


There is no easy way to write, but doing this little bit of preplanning for each scene is invaluable. Occasionally the scene will shape differently than planned, but that's OK too -- just go with the flow.

The scene-sequel dyad gives you a point to write about, incorporating a forward arrow to your story that grips your reader to learn more.


  1. Hey, thanks for the post! I've read about the scene/sequel thing before, but never really fit it into my stories where it made sense. I'm glad you pointed out that the sequel can basically turn into a new scene, where the character takes action.

    1. Hi Jessica, one of the best things of a sequel is that the last stages, decision and action, lead DIRECTLY into the next scene. I found while looking over Lever that my scene goals were usually stated at the very end of the last chapter, which contributed I believe to so many people telling me they kept wanting to read "just one more chapter."

  2. Thnak you for this super and very useful series in preparation for NaNoWriMo next month.

    One question re scenes and sequels- is it okay to have the sequel further on in the book rather than straight after the scene that it relates to?

    1. Hi Ruth,

      Sequels are squishy... while they're critical, they DO slow things down a lot. I usually like to include sequel-like responses after actions in the scenes, and occasionally end with a sequel paragraph (plus the next scene goal). So to answer your question I advise make each emotional reaction clear at the time, rather than delaying it, but you can do this quickly rather than an entire chapter.