Scene&Sequel


Scene and Sequel, best known from Dwight V. Swain’s teachings and book, is suggested by several writers, from James Scott Bell to Randy Ingermanson.


Scene and Sequel is a wonderful tool to keep in your toolbox. It gives the readers a powerful emotional reading experience and helps the writer stay focused on a scene that isn't drowning in backstory. S&S can help keep your reader hooked scene after scene. Scenes and Sequels are crucial for moving the narrative plot forward.

Another way to look at it is as Action and Reaction. A Scene is dramatic action or dialogue, and the Sequel is emotional reaction to the Scene. It’s a wonderful way to balance out your Show & Tells. In the Scene you are Showing us an action, and in the Sequel you are Telling the reaction, often through thought or dialogue.

Let’s break it down!

First is your SCENE:
It is comprised of GOAL, CONFLICT, and DISASTER.

GOAL- At the beginning of a SCENE your character must have a goal they hope to achieve. Your GOAL should be simple, objective, worthwhile, achievable, and difficult.

CONFLICT: Your character tries repeatedly to achieve their goal, but fails.

DISASTER: Your Character has a nasty setback. The DISASTER should leave your character worse off than when the scene started.

The second part of Scene Structure is SEQUEL:
It is comprised of REACTION, DILEMMA, and DECISION.

REACTION: Your character is having a visceral reaction to the DISASTER. REACTION is raw emotion.

DILEMMA: Your character must figure out what to do next. If the DISASTER was significant enough, your character will have no good options and must therefore choose the least-bad option. DILEMMA is intellectual. Your character has a problem. How will they solve it?

DECISION: Eventually, your character must make a decision. A DECISION needs to be simple, objective, worthwhile, achievable, and difficult. The Decision should bring you to the next SCENE and its GOAL.

You could alternate SCENE and SEQUEL forever, but know that you can follow a SCENE with another SCENE if you want to keep the pace intense. Just be sure you know what happens in the skipped sequel so that you know the goal for further down the road. This can be brought up quickly by your character in dialogue or internalizations.

Once you understand SCENE & SEQUEL you can not only use it to write better scenes, but you can also use it to write an outstanding, easy to follow outline.

Visit Randy Ingermanson’s site to learn more about writing the perfect scene, or purchase his book Writing Fiction for Dummies (Don’t let the name fool you, it’s packed with great writing tips), or if you really want to get deep into Scene Structure, I suggest hunting down a copy of Dwight V. Swain’s book Techniques of the Selling Writer.

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