Sunday, March 9, 2008

Question about scene and sequel

Shauna asks--
A lot of my scenes don't have sequels or incorporate that material into the last couple of paragraphs. Perhaps I don't understand the power of the scene-sequel combo; to me it seems to interrupt and slow the action to have a chunk of introspection, discussion, and decisionmaking after every scene. What's your take on structuring a book as a series of scenes and sequels?

I agree with you, actually! Often a sequel does slow the action, and I don't think all scenes, or all characters, or all books, need sequels. They seem best suited with a more contemplative character who faces a problem that he/she thinks thinking or deciding will help resolve (whether he/she is right or not). Sequels probably don't work as well (at least in the first half of the book) with a character who always defaults to action instead of contemplation. Some writers say a sequel CAN be action, but to me, that just means more, uh, action, thus scene, not sequel.

As for putting the sequel at the end of the scene-- I prefer important scenes especially to end on conflict, and the trouble with sequel is it tends to be more resolution of conflict (she figures out what she's going to do, for example). Conflict is what causes anxiety in the reader, and thus, page turning.

But there's a way to fix that rather easily while adding a sequel-- put the sequel not at the end of Scene A, but at the beginning of the next scene (even better if the next scene starts a new chapter). That way Scene A can end with conflict (a dilemma without a solution yet), and the reader is impelled to turn the page to see what happens-- and then is treated to a bit of the POV character's contemplation in Scene B.

As with all "rules," sequel only works when it works, and when it doesn't, try something else. :)


Anonymous said...

I've found that when attempting to apply Bickham to my writing that I would have to modify the theory so much that I'm better off without it.

Like so much writing advice, I think it is more useful as a revision tool than during the drafting stage: when things go wrong, I like to have a large arsenal of tools that will help me work out why they;re not working and what I might try instead.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

About ending a scene in conflict: as a reader, it's often harder for me to put down a book if I know the character is about to spring into action in the next chapter than if I've ended this current chapter with an internal conflict.

I want to see what's going to happen next. It's a delicious thrill; it's what makes me keep turning the pages when the Tour Manager has turned out the light and I'm reading by the ambient light in my dark room.

Edittorrent said...

I like the reminder that scenes don't end with just a "yes"-- a "yes, but" brings so much possibility.