Now that we understand the basic concepts of scenes and sequels, the question becomes, how do we implement them? There are no rules to determine how much of the book individual scenes and sequels take up. However, knowing the genre and the specific point in the novel is essential to leveraging them to their full potential.
In action/adventure stories, scenes rule supreme. Readers come expecting epic, action driven sequences. If they believe you’ve promised them a glorious light-saber battle, heaven help you if you instead focus your climax on a sequel-response to the main character’s heart being broken (ack, Star Wars Episode II). Conversely, if you’re writing a romantic comedy, you’re going to spend a lot of time in the emotional response section of sequels. Characters will meet with their best friends to commiserate, there will be glorious dates, wondrous highs and soul-searching lows. Thrillers and mysteries spend a lot of time in intellectual responses and anticipation, deducing the best way thru the fog. Each genre uses the scene-sequel repeat structure, but they shorten or elongate them as their genre dictates.
In similar fashion, we can use scenes and sequels to control the pace of the story. Much like a writer can use concise, punchy writing to push down the gas pedal of a story, quick scenes with the briefest sequels accelerate the story forward at breakneck speeds. Likewise, if we find our story spinning out of control, we can pump the brakes with more flushed out sequels. If our characters seem to dry, we expand on their emotional responses. If they seem flaky, we expand their intellectual response. If they’re lives are too easy, we put an exponential multiplier on the conflict or setback portions of the story, tightening the pressure on them.
Understanding our scenes and sequels are a godsend as we craft our story. Even after we begin the writing process, keep them close at hand. When editing, there will be times when you question why you wrote a section in a particular way. If the section didn’t work, most often it’s because you got off your story cards. Some use 5×8 note cards, I use OneNote (only because I’m a hot mess when it comes to organizing physical objects). Use Denny’s labeled napkins if that fits your personality. Regardless of whatever method you use, having a documented account of your original thoughts is incredibly useful.
As an example of what this looks like, I’ve attached the scene-sequel that starts off my story Tyrants and Traitors in chapter one. Since it’s written in first person, all of the goals, conflicts, etc. revolve around the protagonist Niklas.
Scene- This is a bad idea
Goal: Steal sword from the Philistine’s stockpile, success, but then steal ‘custom sword,’
Conflict: The Philistine Lahmi and his men, something under cage
Setback (No, and furthermore): The Philistines hear him in the wagon, come after them
Emotional Reaction: Expletive laden rant,
Intellectual Reaction: This is so much bigger than his usual chaos, realizing he has no chance of fighting them, the Philistines are known for brutality
Anticipation: He dies if he fights, realizes he can probably outrun them
Choice: Run for it
Scene- Run like hell
Goal: Run like hell from Philistines, lose them among sheep in a coral
Conflict: The Philistine Lahmi and his men
Setback/Unexpected (Yes, but): Yes he loses them, but his brother Isaiah is caught
Emotional Reaction: Shame for getting his brother captured,
Intellectual Reactions: Watching them show him no mercy as they pummel Isaiah
Anticipation: Run away, try to fight, convince Philistines to take him, get town to help, distract them, beg for mercy
Choice: Turn himself in
Scene- Facing the music
Goal: Convince them it was his fault
Conflict: Lahmi and his men,
Setback: (Yes, but) They decide to punish him by feeding him to lion
Emotional Reaction: Terrified
Intellectual Reaction: He won’t be able to overpower his captors or the lion
Anticipation: He has one, slim chance (keep it hidden from reader to build suspense on what will happen)
Choice: Try to tackle the guy at the door of the cage
Scene: Desperate chance
Goal: Grab the cage’s door, let the lion out
Conflict: The Philistine Lahmi and his men
Setback (Yes, but, unexpected): Lion is released, but now the Philistine thug tries to choke him, rescued by his older, much larger brother Eliab and his massive axe