Hi everyone, I’m back after taking a couple of days off. I realized Tuesday that Wednesday was going to be the Fourth of July, and it just didn’t make sense to put out my e-zine or write a blog post when a high percentage of my readers would be doing exactly what I was doing on the Fourth–vegging out.
In fact, I’ve decided that it’s probably best to wait till next week to send out my e-zine. With the holiday right smack in the middle of the week, there doesn’t seem to be a good day to release it.
We’ve been discussing Scenes and Sequels in fiction lately, and how to use them to create that all-important Powerful Emotional Experience. (It has often been speculated that I chose this phrase for it’s amazingly cool three-letter acronym. I wish I was that clever and bold, but in fact I didn’t.)
A number of questions and comments came up while I was vegging out:
At what stage of planning or writing do Scene/Sequel begin to take shape? Is it in the early plotting, so that you’re sure to include the 3 elements of Scene or Sequel before you ever write?
Is it after you’ve laid out a basic storyline? Or is it while you write & flesh out the story?
Randy sez: It’s up to you. I recommend that you develop your story first without thinking too much about the rules. But then when you go to write a Scene or Sequel, it just makes sense to ask first what’s the Goal-Conflict-Disaster sequence (or the Reaction-Dilemma-Decision) sequence.
That way you don’t waste time putting your precious pearls of perfect prose on paper, only to discover that the whole thing was ill-structured to begin with.
That’s like building a new room on the house and THEN asking what the room is going to be used for. (Oh darn! We really wanted a bathroom, but we built it with three huge windows, no doors, and no toilet! Dang!)
I have some questions. I’m just starting to get my head around this scene/sequel thing. However, taking it to my WIP, I can see that I’m either misinterpreting how this works in my own work or I’m doing it all wrong. My prologue seems to be more a sequel then a scene (can that work?). And then I have a chapter in which the POV character has a goal and a conflict, but the disaster isn’t really a disaster for the POV heroine but for her antagonist. Does it have to be the character with the goal that has the disaster?
Randy sez: A prologue can be either a Scene or a Sequel (though most writers would do it as a Scene). However, it should be one or the other; it should not be a mix of both.
As for Disasters that fail to disast, well you can do that once in a while. Remember, all these rules are rules of thumb. Like the Pirate’s Code, they’re guidelines, not infallible laws. But if you have a scene that ends in a disaster for a non-POV character, you should immediately ask yourself if it wouldn’t be more effective to change the POV to the character who has the disaster. A lot of times, you’ll decide that yeah, you should have used a different POV character.
Many writing teachers will tell you to choose the POV character based on “who has most at stake” or on “who has the most to lose.” Both of these guidelines are essentially the same as mine.
By the way, I just finished reading a recent NY Times bestselling literary novel which violated a LOT of the “rules.” (I’ve been studying it with a mentee of mine.) I went through about three stages in reading this book. First, I found the violation of the “rules” rather obtrusive. Then, I found it charming, because the writing was strong and I felt that in some cases, breaking the rules “worked.”
As I got further into the book, I found myself getting more and more bored with the story. I wanted to like it, because it had an interesting premise. But at a certain point, I stopped caring about most of the characters. And I think the reason for that was the continuous failure to put me inside the skin of any character.
I’m not going to tell you the title of this book (unless you ply me with large quantities of chocolate–we all have our price)–because I don’t like to slam a fellow author in public. Authors get slammed enough from book reviewers. I mention it because it reminded me pretty forcefully that those rules have a reason, and we violate them at our own risk.