Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tools for Writing: Scenes & Sequels

Did you know that if you do an Internet search of “scene and sequel,” you’d find 51,800,000 results? (No, I’m not exaggerating.) It's one of those catch phrases that you hear floating around writers' conferences along with "motivation-reaction unit" and "point of view." But, it is an important tool for your writer's toolbox because it keeps your novel moving forward. 

What is "Scene and Sequel?"
A scene gives the point of view character a goal, presents some type of conflict and ends with a disaster that moves the action forward into either another scene or a different type of scene called a sequel. A sequel is just a reaction scene that shows the point of view character’s emotion, presents them with another quandary that demands a decision and leads into more action.

The Warrior, the Wise Woman and the Fool
To explain this concept a little, let’s look at the biblical account of David, Abigail and Nabal. (I'm speaking on this Bible story tonight to my women's group at church so prayers would be greatly appreciated.) In 1 Samuel 25, David has just spared Saul’s life and is enjoying an uneasy ceasefire in the wilderness where he and his men are protecting area shepherds.

Scene: Goal, Conflict, and Disaster
David sends ten men to town with the goal of asking the owner of the largest flock, Nabal, for food. But here’s the conflict. Nabal is known for being ill-mannered and boorish. In fact, his name means, “fool.” In his answer, he compares David to a runaway slave and sends the messengers back empty-handed. Disaster strikes. David, in his anger, orders his men to suit up and prepare for battle, intending to kill every man in Nabal’s camp.

Sequel: Emotion, Quandary, Decision, and Action
In the sequel to this scene, a young servant runs to Nabal’s beautiful and wise wife, Abigail, with an emotional account of what has happened. She has a quandary: what can she do to stop the slaughter that her churlish husband has put into motion? She decides to order her servants to take the requested provisions to David’s army. Then she goes into action herself. She meets David on his way to her home and falls at his feet, apologizing for her husband’s words and pronouncing a blessing on him and his men. David graciously accepts her apology and spares her family.

How Many Scenes? How many Sequels?
Scenes and sequels can follow one another or you can have a series of scenes followed by a sequel or even series of sequels. 

In 1 Samuel 25:36, a scene follows. Abigail is relieved and returns home to tell her husband what she's done. But when she arrives, she finds Nabal drunk after a huge feast. She wisely decides to wait until he sobers up to tell him that she took food to David. The next morning, she breaks the news and Nabal's "heart dies within him." Disaster strikes when he dies a week later and Abigail is left a widow. 

But the story doesn't end there -- a sequel is next. David hears of Nabal's death and asks Abigail to marry him. The new widow considers his request and accepts, eventually becoming a queen.

Scenes, Sequels and Genre
Jack M. Bickham, in his book Writing Novels That Sell, says genre may determine the structure of a novel. Plot driven, fast-paced thrillers or action adventure may skip sequels. Character-driven contemporary or women’s fiction works may skip scenes. Either way, notice that both scenes and sequel end with disaster or action, driving your story on to its climax and conclusion. 

What about you? Have you used scenes and sequels in your writing?
~ Angie


  1. What an awesome example breaking down scene/sequel using a biblical account, Angie! Great job! Praying for peace and clarity in your presentation tonight, my dear friend.

  2. Thank you so, so much, sweet Dora! And a special thank you for your prayers. They've calmed my heart already. :)

  3. I'm still figuring a lot of this out, so I appreciate your post. I try to have plenty of action driving the story (I write Love Inspired/Love Inspired Suspense type stories) interspersed with sequels.
    I agree it depends on genre. I'd say publisher too.

    Natalia Gortova

  4. Great article, Angie. Love how you simplified this concept. All the other articles I've read on it were sooo much more complicated. Thanks for posting!

  5. Thanks so much for your input, Natalia. I hadn't considered that the publisher may dictate the number of scenes/sequels, too. Something to think about ...

    And I'm glad the post may have helped a bit. It's a complex subject that I had trouble understanding, but Bickham's book really helped.

  6. Thanks so much, Annette! I'm so glad.

    I'd been studying the story of David, Abigail and Nabal at the same time I was reading Bickham's book, so it just sorta came together. Leave it to the Bible to make complex topics simple and understandable. :)

  7. Love the examples, Angie! Very helpful.

    1. Yay! I hope so, Dawn!

      I tried using the blogging tips from Jeff Goins blog, http://www.goinswriter.com, e.g., bold headings, question at the end, etc.

      I think that helped organize the info, too. Thank you so much!


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