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.
Christophe Desmecht says
Welcome back Randy, hope you enjoyed the time off 🙂
Somehow I always had it in my head that too much POV switching throughout your novel is bad. But I’ve been checking into my favorite novels and I came to the startling conclusion that even my favorite authors show more than 3 or 4 POV’s. For some reason, I was convinced that the best way to go was to stay in 1 POV, with the occasional slip into another to break the flow.
Is there a rule to this? Besides the fact that you don’t switch POV within a scene?
I’ve seen many a novel with 4 or 5 POV’s. The trick is to stay in your main 1 or 2 people’s heads for the longest percentage of the time. (I think so, anyway.) Then you see things from others’ perspectives but still engage with the main character the most.
Livinus Nosike says
On the rule issue, I think it is important to know your genre and what in your novel will catch and keep the reader’s interest. There are three conditions under which your reader will keep turning the page: the story, the suspense, or both.
In Literary novels, people read stories that may reveal some cultures, etc, and the emotional experience is created by the unveiling realities and not necessary sudden flow of adrenaline. In Adventure, you may not need to always show your reader the goal ahead of time (your reader’s guess is not limited). It is the surprises that keep the reader going. But showing the goal occasionally will make the surprises more surprising (disaster).
If what you are writing is a thriller, try to stick closely to the rules. To me, the main advantage of the Scene/Sequence rules is that they allow you space for the story and the suspense in such a way that there is no room for boredom. Move your story forward during the sequel and suspend your ready in midair in the scenes!
People read Literary novels for a year and don’t mind, but no want will want to be t(h)rilled that long!
Pam Halter says
I think the lesson here is that we need to keep our readers caring about our characters. If the reader cares, he/she will keep reading.
And that includes editors.
Looking for PEE (eeew, but it’s still faster to abbreviate) in my scenes helps me see the need to intensify some of the situations. I’m doing lots of revising now, but it’s fun. Not as much fun as “Putting precious pearls of perfect prose on paper”, Randy’s alliterative reminder that we ARE allowed some creativity in storytelling. I’m just glad you stopped me before I created 300+ pages of “pearls” before I looked at the structure.
I have a scene that I’m wondering if it works: Some of the G/C/D elements are shown in recollections of the POV char instead of in a forward flow of time.
The scene starts with POV char looking forward to a trip (goal), relieved that things have finally worked out. A brief mental recollection about a friend shows us his reason for wanting to make the trip, giving us sympathy for him (?) The Conflict and Disaster that may have prevented the trip are shown next in his recollections, along with how it was resolved. This portion of scene ends with his current, doubtful but humorous view of the solution.
Not an action packed scene, but one that gives a little more emotional connection with the character. And you don’t really see a sequel, although it’s all implied that there was a dilemma and decision. I wonder if it works to recap a scene & sequel like this?
In further speculation of the scene in which I feared the disaster was for the wrong character, I realized that I may actually have a full scene, plus abbreviated sequel in one POV scene. The POV character is not faced with a huge disaster, but a slight bump on the road to the goal that is immediately reacted to and a decision is made in relation to it. The greater disaster, which is impending for the antagonist is actually a major plot of the book, so while it is a main part of the scene it isn’t actually the scene’s disaster. I’m beginning to realize that these aspects of scene/sequel can actually be quite subtle. So is it OK to have all those elements in one scene rather than breaking them up?
Also, am I the only one that finds it difficult to discuss this scene/sequel business when the terminology gets mixed up when referring to a scene, meaning the on page (as opposed to “onstage”) portion of the POV narrative, versus the scene, as in the GCD storytelling aspect of the narrative? Maybe I should just say GCD/RDD instead of scene/sequel, then I can talk about scenes in their more generalized “POV parts of a chapter” meaning.
Diane Says: Maybe I should just say GCD/RDD instead of scene/sequel
In his fiction series, Randy capitalizes the words to avoid confusion. For example: A scene should be either a Scene, with a goal, conflict, and disaster, or a Sequel, with a reaction, dilemma, and decision.