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.
In the multi-POV situation, isn’t there often a cliff hanger of some sort that encourages you to read through the other POV characters to get back to find out what happened to Character A?
How does that fit in? Is the cliff hanger really a division of the setback? Then when you return to Character A, you finish the “Action Scene”, have your “Reaction Scene” and move into your next “Action Scene”? Or, is the cliff hanger just the end of the scene and how he gets out of it is part of the reaction and I’m just having trouble breaking it in my head?
I guess my question is, What is a cliff hanger and how does that fit into the A-Scene, R-Scene structure?
Amy Jane (Untangling Tales) says
This helps me. I have a multiple POV novel and couldn’t figure out why it felt solid (test-readers agreed) w/o consistent Reaction scenes– I’m doing what you describe here, revealing reaction in the next person’s action.
Whew. That feels better.
Lynn Squire says
Randy, I haven’t commented in quite sometime on your blog. Just busy, but I couldn’t keep quiet on this one.
I’ve been calling “scenes” and “sequels” action and reaction scenes (http://faithfictionfunandfanciful.blogspot.com/2008/09/building-scene.html) for quite some time now, and I believe other writers have as well. And have written articles on it for the Ready Writer. I believe you have hit on names that are generic enough and descriptive enough that almost anyone can understand.
I can hardly wait to get my hands on your Writing Fiction for Dummies book. I think it’s going to be a real winner! At least for this dummy, anyway. 😉
Thanks, Randy. This resolves the conflict between Swain and Maass re scene and sequence.
In some cases, wouldn’t you have John’s Action Scene, then Mary’s Action Scene, then John’s Reaction Scene and then Mary’s Reaction Scene? In other words, all the scenes are still there, just interspersed between the other character’s scenes. Perhaps that depends on the scene, and how important the information in the Reaction Scene is — whether or not it needs to be its own scene or can be conveyed in Mary’s Action scene. I agree with JD about the cliffhangers.
Sheila Deeth says
I guess my ABNA failure was multi-pov, so this helps in deciding what to do with it next. Thanks.
I have often wondered if, in multi-POV, having two reaction scenes (or transitions as they are supposed to be used) has a significant effect on plot?
A more interesting question is, in stories that rely on the emotional element more than the physical, should reaction scenes have greater emphasis (say, action/adventure versus thriller or romance?)
If the aforementioned is true should the MICE quotient of a story be a contributing factor to focusing on one or the other type of scene?
Another question I have wondered about is, do the elements of action and reaction scenes HAVE to be split into merely two types of scenes?
For example, right now, there is two types of scene…
Do you believe a story could function, effectively (according to reader entertainment) if the author broke scenes up into three types such as…
One thing you might consider in your book is to include references to Action Scenes and Reaction Scenes in “Published Novels.” Most of the examples I’ve seen, even in Swain, have been “made up” examples. You know, Johns want to date Mary, but she won’t cause Bill already asked her. Duh. How about a real example that shows how the novelist actually wrote the scenes in a book. That way we could see how the writer developed the action scene and the reaction scene.
Randy as Admin says
Hi Char: This blog post was written in 2009, so it’s worth noting that in 2018, I released a new book that does exactly what you’re asking. It’s my book HOW TO WRITE A DYNAMITE SCENE USING THE SNOWFLAKE METHOD, and you’ll see more info on it on this very page.
I analyzed example scenes from The Godfather, Outlander, and The Hunger Games. I think you’ll find them useful.