Advice for Aspiring Authors

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Scene & Sequel 

Writing By The Seat of My Pants...

When I first heard the words scene and sequel…I cringed. Because I didn’t write that way. I didn’t plot. I just sat down at the computer and typed. That was many years ago. Ahem…I have binders full of unfinished manuscripts.

I’m Kitty and I’m a Pantser. I write by the seat of my pants. Yep, I said it. I confessed. Now what? Is there a twelve step program to join? Support groups? Do I get a shinny pin?

The good news is Pantsers can plot and still keep their edge. Really?

Back to those two words SCENE and SEQUEL. (See in bold type, they seem ominous, don’t they? Wahhhaaaaa. They’re not, once you have the tools to slay the beast.)

Let’s start with SCENE:

What’s a scene? What should it contain? (Okay, tiny beads of sweat are forming at my forehead as I write this. Must continue… gripping mouse harder. BREATHE. EXHALE, INHALE)

The best book I ever found that described scenes was written by the late Jack M. Bickhman. He wrote, “What is a scene? It’s a segment of the story action, written moment-by-moment, without summary, presented onstage in the story “now.” It is not something that goes on inside the character’s head; it is physical. It could be put on the theater stage and acted out.” SCENE AND STRUCTURE, ISBN 0-89879-906-6, Chapter 4, page 26.

Wow that’s pretty easy, right? Clear. Scenes are action. They are not summary. They happen in the story now. There are three things all scenes should have and this dare I say, this is where the plotting comes in. Big Gulp.

GOAL,CONFLICT, DISASTER (OMG! I’m so want to head for the hills right about now. Someone hold my hand. Spoiler alert! Big scary words ahead.)

First big scary word…Goal.

All characters must have a goal. Something they want. Ray Bradbury wrote, “First find out what your hero wants; then just follow him.” The goal is why the story is. Your hero wants something.

Second big scary word…Conflict.

This is actually my favorite. Conflict drives your story. Conflict makes it interesting. Without conflict your story would be about as exciting as a grocery list. Conflict can be from the hero himself, from nature, or from another character…the villain. Everyone boo and hiss. The more conflict you have the more interesting. But, conflict needs to have a purpose. It needs to drive the story forward. Random acts of conflict is just that, random.

The third big scary word…Disaster.

Dunt dunt dunt dunt….shark! Disaster is the failure of the character meeting his goal. It’s what makes us turn the page and read the next chapter with the next scene.

Okay so that’s pretty easy right? Just think of each scene as cause and effect. Cover the five W’s… who, what, when, why, and where. Have your dialogue crisp, natural and have a point. And the scene should have a reason. Yep. That about covers it. Not really. But it’s a start. And remember I’m a Pantser. Too much information will make my head explode. I try to keep all of this organized in my thoughts. Mostly though, I think of the major three, Goal, Conflict, Disaster.

Okay cringe, big scary word, again… Sequel.

 when I first started out, I thought a sequel was something after the first Lord of the Rings movie, the second movie, part two. In a way, I was right. A sequel follows a scene. WARNING. Doctrine alert! This is where people differ on opinion. I’m going to share what works for me. Remember I’m a Pantser, the less planning, the better. I believe— please hold the tomatoes until after— that you don’t have to have scene/sequel, scene /sequel.

Sequels as their nature slow the story down. They are the reflection. They are not in the story now. They must have Reaction, Dilemma, and Decision. This is the part where you get into the character’s head. This is where you see how they work. This is also the spot for flashbacks. Flashbacks, in my opinion should only be used to tell an important key element that you couldn’t tell any other way.

Stepping off soap box now…

Back to Sequel.

Following the last scene or scenes you wrote, there should be a sequel. The hero needs to have some time to process what has happened to him. This is his reaction. I think many writers forget to have hero reactions and that’s what their stories are missing… the connection with the characters. This is where we, as the reader, get to know the hero. The hero now has a dilemma. He has faced some conflict in the previous scenes. It caused—ohhh there’s that word again—a disaster and now the hero as an effect has to make a decision. That will lead him onto the next goal. Whoa! Not too hard is it?

I don’t write scene/sequel. It’s too patterned for me. I might have scene/scene/sequel or scene/scene/scene/sequel or sequel/sequel/scene, one in the hero’s POV, one in the heroine’s POV or even villain’s POV. Basically, find what works for you and your story.

Just remember, the sequel is the aftermath of the scene. It’s the reaction, with emotion and thought, the decision making area and the bridge to the next scene.

In the spirit of a Pantser, on my wall above my computer, I have two Post-it notes. One reads: Scene Structure: Goal, Conflict, Disaster. The other reads: Sequel Structure: Reaction, Dilemma, Decision. That’s it. I look up as I writing and ask myself those questions. Then, I let my fingers fly.

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