Must you follow the Scene-and-Sequel pattern of Dwight Swain without ever breaking it up? Or can you break the pattern and still do well in your fiction writing?
Philomena posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
In the scenes and sequels pattern in a book would it work to have the sequel done passively eg. if the hero’s reaction-dilemma-decision results in his deciding to make a phone call to someone, will it work if you show that person receiving the call from your hero and then to resume your hero’s story with a new scene.
Randy sez: First let me bring everyone up to speed on the context of this question. The Scene-and-Sequel pattern is described in chapter 4 of Dwight Swain’s outstanding book Techniques of the Selling Writer. I summarize this in the first half of my article on this site, Writing the Perfect Scene. And I spend parts of Chapter 9 and Chapter 14 explaining them in my book Writing Fiction for Dummies (where I call them “proactive scenes” and “reactive scenes.)”
A Scene (what I call a “proactive scene”) begins with a goal, continues for most of the scene with conflict, and ends with a setback.
A Sequel (what I call a “reactive scene”) begins with a reaction, continues for most of the scene with a dilemma, and ends with a decision.
Scenes lead naturally to Sequels and Sequels lead naturally to Scenes. It’s a neat, clean theory, and it’s tempting to follow this pattern slavishly forever. Don’t do that.
Patterns are there to guide you, to suggest ideas, and to adapt. Unlike formulas, which are imposed on you by somebody and which you do have to follow slavishly. That’s probably my best definition of the difference between a pattern and a formula.
It’s important that you know what the Scene and Sequel structure of your storyline is. HOWEVER, just because you know it, you don’t have to show it to your reader.
Your goal as a novelist is to give your reader a Powerful Emotional Experience. If you can do that best by skipping Sequels, summarizing them, showing them as Scenes in the point of view of some other character, or whatever else you need to do to make the story move your reader, then do so. Of course, if you can best achieve a Powerful Emotional Experience by following the wise guidance of the pattern, then do so.
So there’s a simple answer to Philomena’s question: Yes.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.