Yesterday, I talked about how you set up Scenes and Sequels (which we have now agreed to call Action Scenes and Reaction Scenes) when writing with multiple points of view.
Today, JD asked:
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?
Randy sez: A cliffhanger is just a Setback in an Action Scene. The pattern of an Action Scene is that the POV character has a Goal coming into the scene. He experiences Conflict throughout most of the scene. Then at the very end, he hits a major Setback.
Please notice that the preferred way to end the Action Scene is by showing the Setback without showing the POV character’s response to it. The reader can see clearly that the POV character is in trouble, but then the scene ends abruptly. That’s a cliffhanger. It’s a great way to end an Action Scene.
Bonnie asked, regarding multi-POV novels:
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.
Randy sez: Yes, you can do it that way. When writing a multi-POV novel, you just have more options than when you’re writing a single-POV novel. I’ve written both kinds, and there are sometimes reasons to go with single-POV. (For example, when you want to keep secrets from the reader, such as in a mystery novel or certain kinds of thrillers. Then, if the POV character isn’t privy to some secret, the reader can hardly blame you for not telling that secret.)
Keep in mind that in modern fiction, the Reaction Scene doesn’t get as much play as it used to. Modern readers like more action, less introspection. So it’s probably possible to have a novel in which there are NO Reaction Scenes at all. (I can’t think of any like this, but I think it’s theoretically possible.) But as I noted yesterday, even if you don’t write the Reaction Scene, you need to know what happened there.
Thanks for answering my question. That makes sense.
In regards to cliffhangers:
It does seem at times that cliffhangers end chapters in the middle of a scene’s action, and that the scene continues in the following chapter. However, usually a cliffhanger is, as you said, a setback for the protagonist.
At times the action may resume immediately in the next chapter, but I think in most cases there is probably a beat of reaction that transitions right into a new or renewed goal.
For instance, the creepy stalker appears out of the gloom, a knife raised to strike – end of chapter.
Then the next chapter (or if the writer is particularly devious, the chapter after that) begins with the heroine’s reaction to that motivation and the acquisition of a new goal – run! All of this happens in a few sentences, but the Reaction Scene (or perhaps Beat) still takes place.
Daniel Smith says
I wondered about this too. Thanks for clearing that up, but your last statement begs another question:
(Regardless if anyone would actually read it) Is it possible to have a novel in which there are ONLY Reaction Scenes? Some kind of reflection novel? A memoir? Non-fiction?
Sheila Deeth says
Modern movies tend towards more action, less reaction, too. I was reading somewhere else about the need for writers to include some reaction in order to get the reader involved in the characters. But maybe the trend is a reflection of modern society.
Lynn Rush says
Whoa, my head was spinning there for a while, but today’s post stopped it. LOL. This makes sense. I like the Action/Reaction, all that MRU, etc was where the spinning started. LOL.
I know, can we say, “newbie”….
Thanks for the posts!!
Pam Halter says
Cliffhangers at the end of chapters are tools authors use to keep readers reading. Especially when using multiple POV. As a reader, I hate it when I have to either wait to see what happened or read through another POV to see what happened. 🙂 But as an author, I love to figure out ways to keep the reader either hanging on or staying up a little longer to read “just one more chapter.” Mwahahahaha!!
Please notice that the preferred way to end the Action Scene is by showing the Setback without showing the POV character’s response to it.
Okay, so that is a big help to me. I tend to show this and then the Action Scene ends on a really campy, sentimental note. Yuck! I’ll try taking those reactions out and see how it helps.
Thanks for the great help with the distinctions between Action Scenes and Reaction Scenes!
Camille Cannon Eide says
It sounds like you’re suggesting the chapter end between the Goal/Conflict/Setback and the Reaction/Dilemma/Decision, at least as far as creating cliff-hangers goes. A character’s Decision may give you some reason to read on, but a Setback would give more, if done right. Right?
Without getting too regimented (this is ART after all, dadgummit!) is this a good pattern to follow?
(opening scene/introduce character)
GCS, RDD, GCS, chapter break
RDD, GCS, chapter break
RDD, GCS, chapter break, etc.
On Multi POV and chapter breaking: I have the first two scenes done on the new novel and I am working on a third to complete the first chapter. Don’t know if that will make the chapter too long, but the pattern for chapter one goes:
Scene 1: Both POV A and character c have a simple GCS and RDD within the first 2 page scene.
Scene 2: POV A has another brief GCS and RDD back to back.
Scene 3: we amp things up with a longer GCS for POV A and ends with her literally hanging on a cliff (okay, stuck in a ravine) with a busted leg. End of Chapter.
Chapter 2 will open with A’s brief RDD and a new GCS all crammed together. Things were a mess before and just got worse. Then we introduce a new character and switch to POV B, whose existence was mentioned in the predeeding scene. Thanks to this lesson, I’ll remember to leave POV B hanging on a setback too. He will probably need a full GCS-RDD-GCS cycle before I can switch POV or end the chapter.
Thanks. I’m glad we had this talk. I hope our bumbling along and baring our novels here helps you write your book, Randy. I’ll be a beta Dummy. 🙂
Something I’ve been pondering as I read through the recent blogs: do you feel that the type of novel being written would or should affect the use of Reaction Scenes? I was thinking that in a romance novel, for example, it would make sense to go a little heavier on Reaction Scenes because a romance focuses more on emotion, and the thought processes and reasoning of the characters would be of more interest. Whereas in an action story, long and frequent Reaction Scenes would slow down the pace too much and only detract from the action. Would you agree with this, or do you feel that the books genre shouldn’t really influence the use of Reaction Scenes?
“Modern readers like more action, less introspection. So it’s probably possible to have a novel in which there are NO Reaction Scenes at all.”
I think this is a general assumption propagated by the industry without true and substantial evidence in the overall scope of fiction. I would agree that thrillers require more Action by the nature of the stories and their audience. But some noir mysteries and suspense novels with good writing can take a reader into the mystique of the mindset of all kinds of characters without under emphasizing Reaction at all. (And of course the romance/women’s fiction genres as well.) JMO
POV can be an SOB. We started hearing about it back in high school creative writing class, usually stuffed into a box of rules. One of those rules was: never mix first person with third person point of view.
Well, times are changing, and the nuns who taught us those rules have gone on to that great creative writing workshop in the sky. Because more and more these days you’ll find successful novels that mix the two POVs, and with killer effectiveness.
But there are still a couple of rules. First, you can’t do this within the same scene (or chapter), it’s messier than a first date gone wrong. And, if you try it, there should be roughly the same amount of scenes from both POVs. Dropping only one or two first person scenes into a novel that is otherwise all third person omniscient is, well, awkward. And you’ll never sell it.
Nelson Demille mixed first and third POV in his #1 bestseller, “The Lion’s Game.” I did it in one of my novels, too (which I won’t name because I don’t spam and don’t want to be accused of it), and it got a starred review from PW, among other props.
So consider breaking that old rule and watch your novel go deeper, faster, and with greater effectiveness.
Ok, I know this is a really old topic thread, but I was interested in the idea that modern novels aren’t giving much play to the reaction scene.
When I was in college, I read a lot of old German Literature and some of those authors (Goethe comes to mind) really seemed to emphasize the reaction scene- some of those works literally have a super short action scene followed by an entire novels worth of internal reaction, which is kind of interesting.
I wonder if this will “swing again” in “popularity”, and come around the other way, and if it does, I wonder how long it would take.
It might be fun (and fairly simple) to play around with this idea to see what could be done by an enterprising writer and a good storyline. It sure might allow that writer to stand out a little from the pack.