Thanks to all who wished me a happy birthday.
Today, I’ll just answer a few questions that came in:
I’m seeing the wisdom of breaking my work into scenes and sequels, but I’m a little confused about sequels: how long do they need to be? If a scene ends in disaster and I need to take my character from that right into another action, is what happens between those two scenes a sequel even if it’s only a paragraph or so? And more importantly, can there be action in a sequel, pushing the MC to the decision–or is that then just another scene?
Randy sez: A sequel should be as long as it needs to be, but no longer. The trend these days is to minimize the sequel. You can get by with a paragraph long sequel, if it does the job. You can even skip to a new POV character in a new scene and then allude to the sequel of the previous scene, without ever showing it. Sequels can be boring if done boringly (duh) and so it’s best to avoid that. Yes, there can be action in a sequel. It’s probably better that way.
What about different POVs about events that take place at the same or at an overlapping chronological time? How can you cover the same (or not distinctly separate) time period from two different POVs?
Randy sez: This is fine, as long as it works. Orson Scott Card once wrote two novels that covered the same time period and the SAME EVENTS, but from the POV of two different characters. ENDER’S GAME and ENDER’S SHADOW. In the first, you see the whole story from Ender’s POV, and a little kid named Bean is a minor character. In the second book, Bean is the main character and you now understand the first novel better, because Bean knows things that only he can tell.
Many novels have shown scenes going on that overlap in time. It’s perfectly OK to do that, as long as you maintain emotive tension.
My critiquer complained that the story was too dark and breakneck. I intentionally added a few humerous scenes to slow things down and give the reader a breather. They aren’t sequel and don’t necessarily advance the plot, but they do deepen characterization and mileu. And, they bridge to the plot. Is this done?
Randy sez: Yes, it’s done all the time. It even works some of the time. You should make sure that your critiquer actually reads your kind of story. Otherwise, you may be taking advice from someone who is not your target reader. It’s rare (but does happen) that a novel is too fast-paced. Or maybe I’m just getting old. One or the other.
I’d like to know if, in general, the key elements to good storytelling that we talk about, like Scene/Sequel, apply more to commercial than literary fiction?
I guess I’m writing a relational drama, women’s fic. I have some chapters that move the story along but don’t have a disaster, unless it’s subtle. Can you have an emotive punch in a scene without a ‘disaster’? Isn’t humor an emotional experience? In a story about relationships and inner struggle, can inner conflict and interpersonal drama produce enough emotional experience? Or is it a hairy bore?
Randy sez: Yes, the Scene/Sequel schema is for commercial fiction. Literary fiction is its own world, but the truth is that some literary novelists could really use a little Scene and Sequel magic so as to stop being so darn boring. The literary novelists I read are not boring. Chaim Potok is never boring. Neither is Elizabeth Moon or Audrey Niffenegger or Alice Sebold.
Humor is not really an emotional experience. Humor is good, but it needs to be on top of that pesky Powerful Emotional Experience. I always use some humor in my books, but its the pepper, not the potatoes.
Inner conflict is always good, even in movies with lots of exploding helicopters. (See the Die Hard movies for examples.) Interpersonal conflict is always good. You can only blow up so many planets before it loses its charm. Whereas interpersonal conflict never loses its charm. I have watched PRIDE AND PREJUDICE well over a dozen times and have not got bored with it yet, not even the five-hour BBC marathon version.
The problem comes along when I’m reading something that is not written in my “style” or similar to my voice, and then I start mimicking that writer’s style! Not overtly, but in things like sentence length or sarcasm or pacing. You have mentioned reading several different types of fiction: do you ever face this challenge, or is it simply a freshman/sophomore thing?
Randy sez: There is nothing wrong with mimicking somebody else. That, in fact, is probably how you develop your own voice–by mimicking others and finding those aspects of their voice that resonate most powerfully with you. I have been doing a daily exercise recently where I type a couple of pages of another author’s work. That’s all–just type them. Then I go write. I have not noticed that my voice is warped by those other guys. But I’ve ripened on the vine for a long time. A freshman or sophomore may be a bit more pliable. Don’t worry about that. When you get to be a Senior, your voice will be strong and powerful and unique.
Randy, I can’t seem to grasp this Scene/Sequel thing. I’ve read Dwight Swain’s book and even listened to his lectures, but it just excapes my understanding.
I know it will be one of those things that makes me slap my forehead and say “well duh!” when I finally understand the concept, but for now I get frustrated trying to “get it”. Yes, I have listened to your Fiction 101, Fiction 201 and also the tapes of Fiction 101 you did with Brandilyn Collins. Am I just hopeless?
Randy sez: Scene and Sequel is hard! Don’t give up. Write a scene and then look at how it ended. Does it end with a disaster or a decision?
If it’s a disaster, then you have a Scene. Make sure the disaster actually disasts–(it should frustrate some goal). That goal should be clearly spelled out at the beginning of the Scene. If so, you can’t help but have conflict in the Scene.
If it ends in a decision, then you have a Sequel. What were the options available before the decision was made? That is the dilemma. Make it as tight as possible.
If you have neither a disaster nor a decision at the end of your scene, then strangle that scene because it’s not helping you.
OK, I better get this blog posted before midnight.