I’ve heard the terms scene and sequel used together for the past few years and to be honest until recently I’ve been super confused about them. I knew what a scene was, it’s that thing that happens in one place before switching to another place, right? Nope. And a sequel, that’s the second movie, and usually not as good as the first. Uh, nope.
When it comes to writing these terms are used in a different way. A scene is well, a scene, like when you say, “She made a scene.” It’s when something happens. It can be as little as a husband discovering that his wife is really a spy or as big as the world exploding. What makes a scene a scene is that something happens that brings the character closer to his goal.
Easy enough? Don’t worry, I’ll break it down a bit more in a second.
It’s the sequel part that throws most people off, and I admit I was one of them. You can’t think of sequel as something separate because it’s not. It’s more like a reaction. The scene is the action and the sequel is the reaction. When the character reaches his immediate goal and either succeeds or fails then there is that period of adjustment as he tries to figure out what to do next – that’s the sequel.
Let’s look at an example –
Jamick the dragon slayer still needs to slay his first dragon to join the League of the Dragons (external conflict). He has found the lair of a horned valkyrie dragon and has the perfect chance to prove himself at last to his family (opportunity), who have given him an ultimatum that he must either join the league or leave the ancestral home (internal conflict). When he gets to the mouth of the cave he hears a woman’s voice singing within. Intrigued, he enters and meets Deidral. She tells him that he cannot kill the dragons because they are the last defense against a darker power (change of plan).
The scene element ends here because this is where his huge goal changes and he must react, reassess his life, and make a new goal.
Jamick must make a hard decision. Should he kill the dragon anyway because it is more important to prove himself to his family? -or- Should he learn more about what the strange woman is talking about? He continues to talk to Deidral and decides he needs to learn for himself if she indeed speaks the truth (New goal). He leaves to go speak to the wise man that lives at the edge of the village, hoping that perhaps he knows more about this darker power that Deidral spoke of.
The next scene begins the second Jamick decides what he is going to do and takes the first step to act on it.
And so on… and so on…
“Yes, and… No, but…”
Another way of thinking scene and sequel is using the “Yes, and… No, but…” technique. This is how we continue the story when the character has a task to perform and either succeeds or fails (a scene). Jamick’s first goal was to slay the dragon. Was he successful? No, but he learned something that led him to his next task (the sequel). Had he ended up killing the dragon we would ask ourselves this instead – Did he kill the dragon? Yes, and then he got the respect of his family (but kinda ended the world…)
Using this in your story
In a single protagonist story this technique works well to help guide your character towards his ultimate goal while allowing the reader to really get into his mindset and learn about what makes him a unique and fascinating character. Readers read to find an emotional connection to the story and the best way of doing that is allowing them to see characters have moments of reflection and decision where they must sort through their own feelings.
Now, let’s have some fun with this. In the beginning before the conflict truly begins to escalate there will be more time for reflection and planning on the part of your character. As the story progresses this time will grow shorter as the need to solve problems and get out of trouble gets more immediate. There is no law saying that you must follow the scene sequel pattern exactly. As the climax grows closer you might find you have three or four scenes stacked on each other as the crisis comes to a head. Then, when the crisis is over there can be one big sequel that allows both the reader and the character get back to a happy, or at least neutral place.
Multiple Point of View
You might have the situation where you are writing several different points of view in the same story. Each of these characters will have scene sequel cycles as they all have goals to complete. When plotting multiple characters you can be creative in how you organize where the scenes and sequels for each story line. One of the more effective cliffhanger endings is to end a chapter at the end of the scene and then jump to a different character’s scene before returning for the first characters sequel.
Scene A: Jamick is ready to kill his first dragon, he enters the cave and finds a beautiful woman sitting beside the beast singing to it. She tells him he cannot kill this dragon. He raises his sword over his head and asks, “Why not?”
Scene B: Beldrick the Wise has just received news that another hunter has been found killed in the woods and those who found him can’t figure out who or what might have done it. The village is in a panic thinking there might be a murderer among them. Beldrick goes to investigate and discovers something that he feared would one day happen.
Sequel A: Jamick learns that the dragons are the last line of defense against a terrible dark power, if there are too few of them the world is in danger. He wants to believe her but needs more proof and heads back to the village.
Sequel B: Beldrick approaches the town council with urgent news, there is a glimling among them, a shape-shifter with a demon spirit. The town must take precautions so that no one else falls prey.
Breaking up the scenes and sequel builds tension, things keep happening and the reader needs to wait before it reaches a resolution. That said, please don’t use this with every scene and sequel, it is most effective when used at key points where you really need to build tension. If used over and over then your reader might start skipping chapters to see what happens.
Scene and sequel is a great tool for building stories and keeps your characters moving towards their main goal. When used well it can give your story needed depth and perspective, help build tension, and resolve that tension.
The story used in this post was created expressly as an example to show how scene and sequel works. However, I really like it and might turn it into a novel someday!