This lesson will concentrate on sequels, which is nothing more than a transition that links two scenes, like a hallway between two rooms. It can be long or short, but, like a scene, it consists of three elements: reaction, problem, decision. It is an area of the story where the reader finds out what the character is thinking and trying to decide. It can also be the place for flashbacks (areas where the reader is let in on something that happened in the past that has an impact on what is currently happening.).
Sequels provide reasoning to your story. They let readers know WHY a character is doing what he’s doing, as well as how s/he reaches his/her decision. Sometimes, a character will decide something in a sequel, then do exactly the opposite. This can only work if we find out in the next sequel why he did what he did. It is a part of human nature to do what is contrary to what we should do, but there should be a valid reason. This is what is shown in a sequel. This can be powerful and dramatic, but the reasoning – the logic – has to be there. Sequel is aftermath. The state of affairs and the state of mind that shapes your character’s behavior AFTER disaster has knocked him down.
With sequels you can also control the pacing of your novel. Dwight Swain, in TECHNIQUES OF A SELLING WRITER, tells us that long scenes equal big interest and long sequels indicate strong plausibility. He also emphasizes that if your story tends to drag, you should strengthen and enlarge the scenes, add and build up the conflict. On the other hand, if it is moving too quickly, you can use sequel to back things off, give the characters, and the reader, a chance to breathe.
Jack Bickham (who was a student of Swain’s) wrote in SCENE & STRUCTURE some tricks you can play with in your sequels which will add to the reader’s pleasant discomfort:
- Set a clock ticking so the character has only so many minutes to reach a decision. Some other character may set this time limit, or the viewpoint character may set it himself.
- In the thought segment of the sequel, have the character realize whole new dimensions of the previous disaster and his present plight that he hadn’t thought of before.
- Consider having the character’s emotional reaction overwhelm him, so that he plunges back into the story battle with insufficient thought.
- Devise a way to insert a “roadblock” scene in the early stages of the action segment so that the viewpoint character must, in effect, have a sidebar fight of some kind to find his way back to the next scene which he sees as relating directly to his long-term story goal.
- Hold out on the new decision. Write something like, “Then she knew what she had to do.” But don’t tell the reader.
- Stage an interruption – an outside stimulus – which forces the character to “stop sequelizing” and meet the new threat.
Bickham says that you will find as you work more with dramatic narrative structure that some of the devices mentioned here can often be spotted in published stories. You’ll also notice how some authors “mix and match” their techniques, using a hint of one trick and parts of one or more others.
Homework: Look at your scenes from last week. Where do you need sequels? Be sure to include the three parts of a sequel: reaction, problem, decision.
Swain, Dwight, TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER, University of Oklahoma Press: Norman, ISBN 0-8061-1191-7
Bickham, Jack M., SCENE & STRUCTURE, (Elements of Fiction Writing Series), Writer’s Digest Books, ISBN 978-0-89879-906-4