Seeing the scene, waiting for sequel

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Tonight in The Writer’s Workshop group, we responded to writing which first promised and then delivered. A scene’s setting suggested the details which the story returned to later. The writing was not a long passage, but it managed to return to a subject so smoothly as to remind me of Scene and Sequel. They’re a pair used (often exclusively) in modern novels to give structure and pace to stories.

Every reader or moviegoer understands scenes. But a story needs more than just scenes; they’re good enough for movies, but writing demands some deeper thought in the characters, emotional revelations, internal monologue. These things make books so rich that movies struggle to deliver the same impact. As good as Lonesome Dove was as a miniseries, it’s hard to find a Larry McMurtry fan who loved the film as much as the novel which sparked it.

Sequel is the engine to deliver that emotional wallop, the glue “that holds scenes together and helps you get from one to the next,” says Jack Bickham in Scene & Structure:

Sequel is a flexible structural component, and it provides you with all the tools you need for in-depth characterization, analysis of motivation, explanation of character planning, etc.

After the trouble (the scene of conflict) that is essential to any interesting story, there are four compartments in the sequel that will lead to the next bit of trouble:

  1. Emotion
  2. Thought
  3. Decision
  4. Action

A scene is characterized by conflict. A sequel is characterized by feeling and logic. Bickham notes:

Little about the sequel structure is hard-and-fast, except that the sequence of the parts must always be imagined by the writer in the order which human behavior dictates — emotion first, then later thought, then the reaching of a decision, then a new, goal-oriented action.

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