Like so many others, I spent the beginning of the year looking over what I had done last year and thinking about what I wanted to get done this year. I know I have a tumultuous relationship with my writing, and thought I was starting to turn things around. Really, I was deluding myself. While I got more written last year than I had in the previous five years combined, I wasn’t getting any productive writing done.
So I started my writing plans for this year by tabling every writing project I failed at working on last year. Then, I planned out a new daily writing practice schedule, focusing first on reconnecting with and strengthening my writing skills and letting my projects grow out of that recentering. Because somehow, things are easier for me if I feel like I’m learning and practicing something concrete. (I know you’re surprised.)
My first writing lesson: Writing Scenes (not to be confused with scenes) and Sequels.
I’ve heard people talk about Scenes and Sequels on writing blogs and in writing podcasts for some time now, but never actually looked into it. Now seemed as good a time as any, so I pulled together some favorite podcast episodes, added in some blog posts and articles, and jumped right in. It did require a small side trip (which I’ll get to later), but I think I’m starting to get the hang of things.
Scenes and Sequels are narrative units that work in pairs to create rhythms that encourage readers to keep moving through the story. The Scene consists of three parts: the Goal, the Conflict, and the Disaster. The Sequel also consists of three parts: the Reaction, the Dilemma, and the Decision. Breaking those down…
The Scene contains the action (or rising action) in the pair. It is composed of three parts that help keep that action building.
- Goal – what the character wants when they first come into this moment
- Conflict – the infamous try-fail cycle (It can be as simple or as complex as the situation requires.)
- Disaster – an obstacle appears that severely hinders the character’s ability to reach their goal (This does not have to be a literal disaster. I had a hard time wrapping my mind around that.)
The Sequel contains the reflection (or falling action) in the pair. It is composed of three parts that help the character process what has happened and figure out how to move forward.
- Reaction – what it says on the label; the character’s immediate response to the Disaster
- Dilemma – the character figures out what options they have moving forward, with no good options present
- Decision – again, what it says on the label; the character picks an option and runs with it, moving us into the next Scene
The nice thing about these two units, when used well, is that they really follow a logical flow while building in good opportunities for tension in a scene. And they build a cycle, which can help minimize writer’s block to an extent. If you’ve crafted a good Scene, it should lead into a logical Sequel, which if well-crafted leads into another Scene, and so forth and so on.
As I said, I’ve been playing with is for about a month now, and I think I’m starting to craft them without having to look up each step. I’m even starting to find some success with them. Try them out in your own writing and let me know how your own explorations go.