Scene and Sequel

A caveat: Before I even begin writing about scene and sequel, I want to be perfectly clear on two points:

  1. If I have presented the information you’re about to read accurately, it is because of my wonderful writing instructors; and
  2. If I have misrepresented any information, it is because I misinterpreted the finer points my writing instructors tried to drum into my dense skull.

Now to the article:

In the throes of my revisions, there have been times when I can’t simply murder a darling here or there, but I must eradicate the entire scene or chapter and re-write it completely. The problem I am currently experiencing revolves around my twelve-year-old girl and working a scene from her point of view. With my adult characters, I can usually decide what I want to accomplish with the chapter and the scenes and sequels practically write themselves. When I have a chapter that moves that smoothly, I use my knowledge of scene and sequel after the chapter is written and during the editing process.

So while I normally find outlines restrictive, the outline can be a life saver when I have a necessary scene or chapter that simply isn’t working. I completely rewrote chapter six, but the whole chapter was flat and lacked that special spark. I’m going to analyze a portion of this chapter so you can see how I work through my problem scenes, then you can tell me how you work through your rough spots.

Before I even begin such important matters as point of view and scene and sequel, I first have to decide how I intend to use this chapter to convey my story. Chapter five had a lot of action for my protagonist, Lucian, and his young charge, Lindsay. Chapter six picks up the morning after the action, and I need to give them a short amount of time to recoup before sending them into another action scene. I have not been in Lindsay’s point of view since she entered Woerld in chapter two, and I feel like I really need to let my reader see Lucian through her eyes. I have established in previous chapters that they are being hunted by Catarina’s soldiers and rather than a phantom chase, I need to bring this hunt into play very soon.

So my goals as an author are:

  • show the emerging bond between Lucian as an Elder and Lindsay as a foundling;
  • show more of Lucian’s past through Lindsay’s point of view;
  • show Lindsay’s emerging magic;
  • allow the reader to see Captain Speight (he’s been mentioned several times, but has not been seen);
  • the obligatory chase scene;
  • the narrow escape that Lindsay will somehow manage to engineer through her raw talent; and
  • the aftermath (or the conclusion of the chapter)

Now that I have established my goals, I need to decide on point of view. As I stated earlier, I have to go into Lindsay’s point of view or she will remain a two-dimensional character. The physical scene is established, because it picks up from where I last left Lucian and Lindsay in the Wasteland. I have now arrived at the moment of establishing the scenes and sequels for chapter six.

As you know, chapters are made up of scenes and sequels. Each scene consists of a goal, a conflict, and a disaster while each sequel consists of emotion, thought, decision, and action. My next step is to evaluate Lindsay’s goals.

At this point in the story, Lindsay is evaluating what has just happened to her and the new feelings she’s experiencing. Lucian has protected her from the brunt of his twin’s attack, but Lucian and Lindsay are still linked mind to mind. So she can see his thoughts and memories as he can see hers.

I use the following format to work through scenes and sequels:

Goal – Lindsay wants to understand Rachael and Lucian’s relationship.

Conflict – Lucian shields his thoughts from her questions before she can determine the cause of Rachael and Lucian’s rift.

Disaster – When Lindsay questions Lucian, he forbids her to discuss it with either him or Rachael.

Emotion – Lindsay is hurt by his reprimand.

Thought – She doesn’t understand why his opinion should mean so much to her. She thinks about how close she had felt to him this morning.

Decision – She doesn’t want him to see that he’s hurt her feelings so she tries to act nonchalant.

Action – She kicks a rock and tries to pretend she doesn’t care.

Before we go any further, keep in mind this is a very rough draft, so forgive me if it is badly written in places. However when I put it all together it looks like this:

[Goal:] Lindsay wanted to see more so she could understand them [Rachael and Lucian], but [Conflict:] Lucian gently closed his mind to her.

“Why didn’t you tell her you still love her?”

“What?” He frowned down at her, blinked, and turned his face away so she couldn’t see him in the pre-dawn light.

“Rachael. Why didn’t you just tell her that you still love –”

“That is none of your concern.” His speech was slightly slurred and he sounded a little like her dad would after he finished his fourth beer.

“It is, too.” She had just as much at stake here as Lucian. “I’m going with you, and we’re supposed to meet her, and she’s dying, because –”

[Disaster:] “That will be enough!” He turned back to her and glared. With his shaggy hair and short beard, he looked like a great, dark bear. A great, dark angry bear. “That is none of your business. And you will not address it, either to me or to Rachael. Ever. Do you understand?”

“Sure.” [Emotion:] She released his hand, unsure why she was so stung by his reprimand. [Thought:] They’d only known one another for a day, so it shouldn’t be such a big deal if he was mad at her.

But it was.

It all went back to their sharing this morning, and for some reason, his scolding bothered her more than she wanted to admit. [Decision:] She bit her lower lip hard, because she didn’t want Peter to find out she’d been a crybaby. Besides, it was none of her business if Lucian was fighting with his girlfriend.

“She’s not my girlfriend.” His hand shook as he pulled a handkerchief from his sleeve.

[Action:] Lindsay jammed her hands into the pockets of her coat and kicked a rock. “Whatever.” Then she realized that he had neatly picked the thought from her mind. “Hey! You stay out of my head.”

As I plan my scenes and sequels, I can move through those difficult chapters more fluidly without wasting time on the literary equivalent of a tangent. My first version of chapter six has just passed through an OWW critique, and my critique group was right on target about several problem areas with this chapter. Like any good critique group, my OWW critique group fires my imagination to go in and implement the changes they suggested.

Rather than continue rushing blindly from one scene to the next and spot fixing the problems with dialogue and point of view, I can take a more focused approach to the overall structure of the chapter. First I analyze each scene and sequel with my worksheets, then I implement my critique group’s suggestions for that scene.

Suddenly the chapter that was so difficult is starting to look a little easier. Once I have a clear focus on my goals for the overall chapter and Lindsay’s goals for her scenes, I can allow her personality to emerge.

Using scene and sequel also helps me evaluate the necessity of a scene. There is another scene in this chapter that will probably not survive the edits, simply because the scene does nothing to propel my story forward.

Linda Rohrbough has a Section Sheet Master for Scene and Sequel Planning as a .pdf document and as a Word document on her web page The Business of Writing. Scroll to the bottom of the page for her worksheets.

There is a wonderful book that many of you may have already read entitled Elements of Writing Fiction – Scene & Structure by Jack Bickham (ISBN 978-0898799064).

You can also find more information on the Internet about scene and sequel by checking out some of these blogs and web sites:

Advanced Fiction Writing

Be a Better Writer with Pearl Luke

The Write Stuff

Now you tell me: what do you do when you have a scene or chapter that simply isn’t working?

Copyright 2009 Teresa Frohock

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About T. Frohock

Please visit my web site at: www.tfrohock.com
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3 Responses to Scene and Sequel

  1. jenniferneri says:

    Teresa, this is quite a post! I found it very interesting, reading through your method. You seem very methodical. I once again, (as I just saw in Linda’s post) how crucial it is to be part of a writer’s group.
    When I was editing my first novel (i am still writing the second), I found myself asking similar questions. If a chapter was crap, my main concern was why had I wrote it to begin with? What was its purpose? I would gage how necessary the information was, and at that point either re-write or scrap.

  2. kaykaybe says:

    Ah- more learnig curve. I don’t know all of the terms- but if I am having trouble I ask a few questions.
    1. What am I trying to show the reader?
    2. Is this the best character to be listening to to get this?
    3. What is the problem they are trying to solve?
    4. Is there anybody who can help me???

    I do this a lot more organically than you, it appears. I am vaguely aware of what conflict is in each chapter- for instance, I split Ch 1 into 2 chs because there are two major conflicts- Lara’s sister sleeping, and Lara making the decision to follow Mother. I have started an outline several times, but get bored with writing it 🙂 One day… Thanks for this terrific post and links.

    • Teresa says:

      I think most writers use scene/sequel organically (I like that term, Kelly!). I only sit down and hammer it out when my POV character isn’t speaking to me clearly. I’ve tried a 101 times to use outlines, and I find them too restrictive. However, in a pinch, it’s often what I need to get those creative juices flowing in the right direction.

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