I have two additional points to make on this topic. These don't contradict what Alicia has said, but are mere elaborations.
First, a mechanical application of Bickham's rule for scene, then sequel often results in a too-introspective story. Not all actions require analysis. As a general rule, I think we need this kind of analysis when the motivation for the character's next action requires some set-up. In other words -- not sequel, but prequel. And the amount of prequel should be in proportion to how much the character must change and grow in order to take that next step.
In other words, stop thinking about what just happened. It's over. Been there, done that. The only thing that matters now is what happens next, and you have to lead the reader to it without either boring them or undercutting the conflict.
So that's my first thought. My second has to do with Dan Brown. (Stop groaning, all you purists. There's a good technique lesson here.)
When The DaVinci Code hit big, everyone I knew who'd read it -- including people who read, on average, one book every decade or so -- made the same comment. "I couldn't stop reading. I kept thinking, one more section, one more chapter, but then I'd read the next part and still couldn't put the book down."
Hmm, thinks I. What's behind all this frantic page-turning?
I asked my writer friends who had read the book, and got a range of answers related to the short length of the scenes and chapters, the constant sense of danger to the characters, and the plot itself. But when I finally read the book myself, I noticed that Brown breaks the convention of treating scenes like self-contained units which begin and end in predictable places.
A complete scene unit usually follows this basic pattern:
- scene goal
- character action in furtherance of the goal
- character meets obstacle
- obstacle creates complications
- complications force decisions
- decisions lead to new scene goal
And then repeats itself, over and over, with minor variations, until the large scale conflict is resolved. Goal, action, obstacle, complication, decion, goal, action, obstacle, complication, decision, goal, action, obstacle, complication, decision, goal, and so on....
Under the Bickham model, a lot of emphasis is put on the moment of decision, enough so that he seems to recommend treating it as a standalone unit, perhaps in conjunction with the next goal. So the actions are clumped:
- action, obstacle, complication
- decision, goal
Because most people appear to think of scenes as some group of actions beginning with a goal and ending after that goal has been attempted (with whatever result), this Bickham model makes some intuitive sense. Put the active things together in one unit, and the analytical things together in a separate unit. Scene cuts and chapter breaks can fall naturally either before or after one of these units.
But if you're Dan Brown, you know that the moment when things are worst is the moment when readers are most interested. And when are things at their worst? During the obstacle, or maybe the complication. So he places his scene cuts and chapter breaks in the obstacle, or sometimes in the early part of the complication. His pattern, then, is:
- complication, decision, goal, action, obstacle
- finish previous complication, decision, goal, action, obstacle, start of complication
Which means that all the boring head stuff, the slower paced stuff, is buried in the middle of his scenes, and all the fast, OMG-what-now stuff falls right at the moment where a reader would normally put the book down -- the scene cuts and chapter breaks -- but in this case, must keep reading. Because really, who can put the book down when bullets are flying and the hero is trapped in an upside down sarcophagus and the bad guys are right!! there!! --
-- and what? we're cutting away from this scene now? Holy crap, the reader thinks, don't leave me hanging --
-- so we read the next line, which takes us to the other good guys, the authority figures or semi-good guys. (Brown triangulates his storylines -- good guys, semi-good guys, bad guys.) And damn it all if we didn't leave the semi-good guys this--><-- close to some disaster at the last scene cut. Which Brown kindly reminds us of, and then races us through to the next obstacle, before leaving us hanging -- leaving us hanging again! Are you freaking kidding me?--
-- And now we're with the bad guy, who is going to do what? No way! He can't possibly be so evil as to-- cut again! Leave it hanging! What exactly is that bad guy doing?--
-- But the first line of the next scene reminds us of the last disaster to the hero, and the bullets are still flying, and the hero is discovering he has a very dry roommate in the sarcophagus, and how the hell can anyone ever put a bookmark in the book? One more page, just one more page, and then we'll put the book down and go to sleep.
Yeah. I stayed up all night reading it, too. And yes, I agree with all the criticisms -- in particular, the women characters are badly drawn -- yet I still had to read it through in one big gulp.
All of which is to say, play with your sequel material. Minimize it where possible, bury it in unlikely places if you want the emphasis to remain on the action, and never forget to save the Dan Brown books for a night when you can skip sleeping.