We’re switching gears today to talk about various aspects of the craft of writing fiction. So . . . no more talking about marketing or branding for awhile!
I’ll start with a question Vennessa sent me last week by email. I’ll summarize the question here: How do you handle Scenes and Sequels in a multi-POV book?
Randy sez: That’s a good question. I’m going to define a few terms so that anyone just joining us will be up to speed on the language.
“Scenes” and “Sequels” are terms invented by Dwight Swain in his book TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER. I give a quick summary of Scenes and Sequels in my article on Writing the Perfect Scene.
A “Scene” contains three major elements, a Goal, a Conflict, and a Disaster.
In Swain’s theory of fiction, a “Scene” should be followed by a “Sequel” which contains three major elements, a Reaction, a Dilemma, and a Decision. A “Sequel” is then followed by another “Scene” and they alternate through the story.
A “POV character” is a “Point of View character”–the character whose head you try to get inside when you’re writing a particular scene. It’s common to use a number of POV characters in a novel. But you should only have one in each scene.
The problem comes when you try to write Scenes and Sequels using multiple characters. If you write a Scene in your hero Jim-Bob’s POV, then it seems like you’re obligated to write a Sequel in Jim-Bob’s POV too, and then another Scene, still in his head, and then another Sequel, and so on. And if you do that, you can’t ever get out of Jim-Bob’s head and into the POV of his girlfriend Sally-Jane. Nor can you ever get into the POV of the villain, Wicked Willie.
What’s a novelist to do?
The truth is that fiction these days moves faster than it did in the old days. Maybe you like that, or maybe you long for the old days when it took twenty pages to explain why Lizzie Bennett’s family estate got entailed away. It doesn’t matter whether you like it or not, fiction moves faster. There is less telling and more showing. There is less family history and more exploding helicopters. There are fewer Sequels and more Scenes.
These days, it’s common to write a novel in which Sequels are played out off-camera, and then the result of each Sequel (the Decision) is reviewed briefly in a later Scene.
This doesn’t mean less work for the author. It means more work. You, the novelist, still need to know what happens in all Sequels. But you now have to figure out a way to just give the reader the meat of what happened in the Sequel (without “telling” it) and work it into a Scene somewhere.
So if you have a Scene from Jim-Bob’s POV, it’s fine to move into Sally-Jane’s POV and show a Scene that ALSO gives the high points of the Sequel for Jim-Bob that happened off-camera. Then you can move to a Scene from Wicked Willie’s POV. Maybe that Scene will just happen to be the Sequel for poor Sally-Jane (in which case you can show it). Or maybe it won’t (in which case you STILL have to know what it was and find a way to tell it).
I like to think of a novel like a braid. Each strand of the braid is the storyline for one of the characters. You could, in principle, show only one strand all the way down and it would all make sense. But you get a richer story by alternating, having one strand on top, then another, then another. The other strands can be seen (or felt) but they’re not always visible. The alternation adds interest and texture.
Does all this make sense? If so, I’ll pick another question tomorrow from the comments we got today (there were plenty to work on for quite a while!)