Yesterday, I asked for the opinions of my loyal blog readers on what to call those pesky Scenes and Sequels. Thanks to all of you for responding! I’ve read through all your answers and I like “Action Scenes” and “Reaction Scenes.” As one of you pointed out, James Scott Bell uses these terms.
I looked back at Dwight Swain’s book and discovered to my horror that he never said that a Sequel is a full-fledged scene. He called it a transition between scenes. So I’ve been misreading Swain for about 20 years now.
I also like the idea of calling the parts of Motivation-Reaction Units “Action Beats” and “Reaction Beats”. This solves a couple of problems with terminology very nicely.
Thanks to all of you for your thoughts and ideas! I appreciate you.
Today, I had an email from a loyal reader asking how Scenes and Sequels tie together when you have multiple POV characters. This is a good question and it’s one I’ve heard many times. I just wrote the answer to it yesterday when I was drafting my chapter on Scenes, so it’s fresh in my mind.
In keeping with my new naming scheme, I’m going to refer to Scenes from here on as “Action Scenes” and I’ll refer to Sequels as “Reaction Scenes.”
When you have a single POV story, you typically write an Action Scene (containing a Goal, a Conflict, and a Setback). Then it’s quite natural to follow that up with a Reaction Scene (containing a Reaction, a Dilemma, and a Decision). Then you use that Decision to give you the Goal for a new Action Scene. This gives you a simple alternation between Action Scenes and Reaction Scenes, on and on, until the story ends.
However, there are two common cases where you often want to break this chain:
1) In a multi-POV book, you often write an Action Scene in the POV of John and then follow it with an Action Scene in the POV of Mary. Then you might do an Action Scene in the POV of Santa. Then you come back to John and do another Action Scene. When do you work in the Reaction Scenes? Answer: you can often avoid ever writing any Reaction Scenes, if you can let the reader know what went on in the Reaction Scenes somehow or other. You can do this using dialogue. John tells Mary, “Since Harvard didn’t accept me, I decided to join the Navy.” There’s the Decision, and we don’t have to wallow through John’s pesky Reaction and Dilemma. This is pretty common in modern fiction.
2) You can let the reader figure out what happened in the Reaction Scene without bothering to show it. Often, you can do this by just showing the next Action Scene in which the new Goal tells us immediately what the Decision had to be from the missing Reaction Scene. This is also pretty common in modern fiction.
I recommend that whether you show the Reaction Scene or not, you should still figure out what happened in it. You are the God of your story, and you get to know everything that goes on. In fact, you HAVE to know everything that goes on. Omniscience is a burden, and you have to bear it.