This post is the second in a series on scene structure. Last week, we spoke about the first part of large scale scene structure, the Scene. If you have not read that article yet, please follow this link and do so now, as it contains information crucial to understand this week’s post that we will not recap. You have been warned…
Note that I will continue differentiating between “Scenes” (as in Scene and Sequel) and “scenes” (a continuous narrative) using capital and lowercase letters.
Scene and Sequel: What is a Sequel?
If the Scene is an action sequence, then the Sequel is the reaction-sequence – it’s where your characters react mentally and emotionally to whatever they just did or were subjected to in the previous corresponding Scene.
While Scenes are fast-paced and read quickly, Sequels are naturally slower. They give your characters – and your readers – a chance to slow down, catch their breath, and mentally process.
If you’ve ever read a book (or perhaps your own rough draft) where it seems like there’s too much action, and the characters just move from goal to goal without pause, you know how unrealistic that is – and how exhausting it can be to read. Real people stop to think about what has happened to them –it’s a psychological fact. If our characters don’t, then they don’t seem real. It’s as simple as that.
One note on Sequel: while sequels are incredibly important, they’re also the points of the book where readers are most likely to stop reading. So, keep Sequels short to keep your reader reading!
Just like the Scene, the Sequel is comprised of 3 parts – the reaction, the dilemma, and the decision.
The reaction is showing how your character emotionally responds to the previous Scene’s disaster. It’s important for your readers to see some kind of reaction from your character for them to seem real. That doesn’t mean that you character needs to snivel and whine at every failure if it’s not in their personality to do so.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, page 270
“Well, that’s it, then, isn’t it?”
The other two stared at him. His face was pale and his eyes were glittering.
“I’m going out of here tonight, and I’m going to try and get the stone first.”
Analysis: Through Harry’s physical description, we can infer that he is afraid to go after the stone himself – he is reacting emotionally to the situation.
A dilemma is, by definition, a situation with no good options. If there is an easy or obviously ‘best’ solution, then any rational person would choose it. If they do, then you have no conflict. If they don’t choose the obviously best choice, then your character is not acting rationally, and your plot will seem constructed (of course all plots are constructed, but they should never seem so.), and your readers will not buy the conflict.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, page 170
“Don’t you understand? If Snape gets ahold of the stone, Voldemort’s coming back! … There won’t be any Hogwarts to get expelled from! He’ll flatten it. If I get caught before I find the stone, well, I’ll have to go back to the Dursley’s and wait for Voldemort to find me there. It’s only a dying a little later then I would have otherwise…”
Analysis: Either Harry goes after the Stone himself and risks death, or doesn’t go after the stone and lets Voldemort get it and possibly return.
So, give your character a bad choice and an even worse choice – bonus points if you can’t tell which is which, and make them choose the lesser of two evils. Which brings us to…
Your character chooses a path of action based on what they think is best. This will give us the goal of our next Scene. It’s the circle of life.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, page 171
“I’ll use the invisibility cloak,” Harry said. “It’s just lucky that I got it back.”
“But will it cover all three of us?”
“All three of us?”
“Oh, come off it,” Hermione said briskly. “You don’t think we’d let you go alone?”
Analysis: Harry, Ron, and Hermione decide to go after the stone themselves.
Note: In this post, I’ve emphasized that characters should act realistically. That’s true, but it’s important to resist the urge to have them make hard decisions the way most real people do, which is basically to avoid them like the dickens. It’s boring to watch characters deliberate for chapters upon chapters.
So have them make decisions quickly and realistically. Got it?
That concludes this week’s article on Sequel, and our foray into large-scale scene structure. If you need a refresher course on Scene, or perhaps never read the Scene article in the first place, you can check that out here.
Next week, we’ll be looking into small-scale scene structure, the trusty Motivation-Reaction Unit.