Understanding Scene-Sequel Structure

Before you roll your eyes at the prospect of me injecting a formulaic approach that imprisons your creative genius, there’s a good chance you’ve been utilizing scene-sequel structure without realizing it.

While crafting a story, it’s as though you’re developing a portal to transport the reader somewhere else. Scene-Sequel structure helps create and maintain this illusion because it naturally follows our human thought process.

As the name suggests, there are two main pieces: the Scene and the Sequel.

Before we dive in… Don’t let the verbiage confuse you! When writing a narrative scene, it will either be a “Scene” OR a “Sequel”. That’s right, a Scene can be a scene and a Sequel can also be a scene.

It’s the arrangement of Scenes followed by Sequels that will lead the reader through the story eating it up along the way. It establishes a cause and effect, action and reaction, and question and answer.

In basic terms…

Scene: The dynamic action which establishes a sequence of events to drive the plot.

Sequel: The reaction to the events that that allows for a natural point of reflection in the narrative.

The components of a Scene:

Goal:

  • What the point of view (POV) character is determined to achieve at the start of the scene.  

Conflict:

  • What is standing in their way from simply just achieving their goal.

Outcome: (failure/disaster)

  • The result of the POV character pitted against the conflict.
  • Most likely, the character will not achieve their goal, which is why this part is commonly referred to as the disaster or the failure.
  • Even if they achieve their goal, something else is probably going to go wrong. If they’re completely triumphant there’s no intrigue to keep the reader hooked. Save the victory for the final Scene.

The components of a Sequel:

Some will tell you that there are only three steps, but I like things expanded… so I’m going with four steps. And like a Scene, the order of these components matters!

Reaction:

  • (The feeling) How does this impact the POV character emotionally? This is the description of the feelings that allow for the reader to have a way in to connect with exactly how the character is feeling.

Reason:

  • (The thinking) The logic thought process of the POV character is reexamining what happened in the Scene and is pulling conclusions from it.

Anticipation:

  • (Sometimes lumped in with Reason) This is when the POV character lays out the options of how they could possibly move on from this point.

Decision:

  • (A choice) The POV character understands which option they have to pursue and selects a new goal… thus continuing the cycle and setting the groundwork for the next Scene.
What does a Sequel achieve for the reader?

Crazy enough, the reader is in this journey along with the hero. The sequel provides many of the same advantages to the reader as it does for the POV character.

  • It slows the pacing (which can be a very good thing). A Sequel allows for a break in the action, acting like the calm before the next tidal wave.
  • It allows the reader to reflect and digest what they just read.
  • They can react right along with the POV character and make their own speculations of how the events will continue to unfold.
How do I plot out a Sequel to a Scene?

If you’re a plotter, incorporating Scene-Sequel structure into your outline isn’t too difficult. When planning the plot of your novel, you are most likely sketching out the sequence of events that take your POV character from their starting state to their end state.

When you create an action sequence or an event, insert a follow-up moment that allows for a Sequel––a moment of reflection and decision making for the POV character.

If you are not a plotter, or find this a bit overwhelming, just write your story and don’t pay attention to Scene-Sequel until the editing stage. Most likely, you will find yourself falling into the pattern unintentionally. Yet, once a draft is complete you can look at your story structure and identify whether or not it fits the Scene-Sequel structure.

Remember, the “Scene-to-Sequel” ratio is the key to controlling the pace of your story. A story rich in scenes will have a quick, rapid-fire pacing, while long sequels have the tendency to slow the pace tremendously.

If you have an Alpha or Beta reader comment that your pacing is off, it might benefit you to look closer at the Scene-Sequel structure.

Other tips to remember when pondering structure

  • A scene/sequel is not bound by scene breaks or chapter breaks. Scene’s and Sequels are determined by what is achieved in the story with regards to the narrative structure, not the divisions of the book. More simply, multiple Scenes and Sequels can be written within the confines of a chapter or a scene break. Inversely, a Scene/Sequel can stretch over the bounds of scene/chapter breaks.
  • To continue that thought, they can be pages long or wrapped up in a sentence or two.
  • It isn’t an exact science. There might be moments when a Scene following a Scene might be appropriate or you might have back to back Sequels that offer different perspectives. It’s important to remember that this is a framework to help structure the narrative into a natural flow, not a hard law of story writing.
  • Genres will utilize Scene-Sequel differently. This is especially evident in the length of Sequels. Contemplative, thought provoking fiction will have long and lengthy Sequels, while action/adventure stories will have much shorter Sequels to quicken the pace. In romance, the reaction portion of the Sequels (the feeling/emotional remarks) will be emphasized. In a mystery, the reason and logic portion of the Sequel will be drawn out as the clues are processed.

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