It’s The Little Things

Writing is a lonely business. I say that quite a bit. Mostly because it’s true. Writers are solitary creatures, often insulated against interacting with other people by the very nature of what we do. Writing takes time. It also takes quiet and, for most writers, a measure of solitude. So when writers get together, either online or in person, it’s a pretty big deal for all of us. We have human interaction (after a fashion) with others who understand this strange life we lead. We discuss things that don’t make much sense. We agonize over things that seem trivial. We also get feedback on our work, and exchange tips on how to do it more effectively.

In a recent post, I talked about the concepts of Scene and Sequel. I got a lot of great feedback on that post. But perhaps the feedback that meant the most came from my friend — and my daughter’s favorite author — Hana Haatainen Caye who regularly writes for iStorybooks (among other things.)

Hana has many irons in the fire at any given moment. She has a very successful blog The Green Grandma, in which she talks about living a more natural, organic life without chemicals. Her book Vinegar Fridays came from a regular feature on her blog about the many uses of vinegar in and around the home. Even now, Hana’s working on getting it ready for release as an e-book! She’s one of the busiest and most prolific writers I know.

Imagine my surprise when she messaged me about how much my post on scene and sequel had helped her improve her writing. After implementing it in her own work in progress with great success, Hana took the concept to her writer’s group. They dissected their own stories that night according to the key points of scene and sequel, and their assignment is to incorporate both into their stories over the next month.

It’s always meaningful to me to hear how the little things I write — whether it’s a blog post, a book review or a novel — have a positive impact on someone’s life. For a moment, that solitary life I lead seems a little less lonely. I’m touched that Hana took the time to tell me how she used what I’d written.

For a writer sitting in the dim light, huddled around the cold glow of a backlit computer screen, with only the whirring of the fan to break the silence, the comments, emails, and reviews are the only applause we get.  Sometimes, it’s the only way we know that we are not alone, and that what we do matters to someone other than ourselves. For those who take the time to tell us, we are eternally grateful.

From Frying Pan to Fire: Scene and Sequel

Most writers have heard the terms “scene” and “sequel.” The first time I was exposed to the concept was when I read Dwight Swain’s book TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER. They are such an important element in storytelling that I wanted to write a blog post about them, but every time I started, I realized that consolidating all of the important elements of scene and sequel into a short post would be nearly impossible if I were to deal with the mechanics of them in any depth. After all, Swain took an entire chapter to delve into the nuances of scene and sequel – they are that important.

At the most rudimentary level, scene can be explained as “action” and sequel can be explained as “reaction.” Both exist together to drive the action forward and control the pace at which the story unfolds. Scene is about linear events and sequel is about the emotional impact of these events and opens the door to the next scene.

Every scene should be like a microcosm of a story in itself, with your character having a goal, reaching an obstacle, and encountering change as a result. In the sequel, the character has an emotional reaction to the conflict created by having their goal blocked and either overcoming or failing, deals with it and transitions into a new mindset in order to face the next scene.

A scene has three elements:

  1. Goal
  2. Conflict
  3. Disaster

The term disaster is used to describe the new negative state of affairs that must be overcome. Swain calls it a hook that pulls the story forward. The goal in a scene is a short-term, focused goal, small in scope and immediate. The conflict is the obstacle keeping your character from attaining his goal.

One example of these elements is found in the opening scenes of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Indiana Jones has reached the golden idol in the temple of the Chachapoyan Warriors. His goal? To take the idol. The obstacle? The pedestal is booby trapped. The disaster? The temple collapses around him.

Enter the sequel. Swain’s three elements of a sequel are:

  1. Reaction
  2. Dilemma
  3. Decision

Reaction: Indy’s smug confidence turns to anxiety as he realizes he’s about to become a permanent part of the site. Dilemma: He doesn’t have the time to carefully negotiate his way back through the booby-trapped floor tiles. The ceiling is falling, setting off the poisoned darts. Decision: He makes a mad dash through and prays he makes it without getting hit by a dart or falling rocks.

Of course, Indy makes it through unscathed, stops and turns, adjusts his hat with a little relieved smile and the wall behind the idol shatters as the giant boulder crashes through. New goal, new conflict, new disaster.

That is an oversimplified explanation of scene and sequel, but you get the idea. Sometimes, it is possible to have several scenes in succession before bringing in the sequel, but the sequel must come into play. The sequel not only lets the character internalize the emotional impact of the action, but it also lets the reader figure out their own emotions as well.

Evoking an emotional response is what good fiction is all about. And that in a nutshell is how scene and sequel work together towards that end.

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Are you conscious of scene and sequel in your reading and writing? How do you keep track of scene and sequel?