Plot, Pacing, and Structure
Understanding Scenes and Sequels
• When defining a Scene for these purposes, does it always have to take place over the course of an actual scene? A scene on the page isn’t defined as it is on stage, as taking place in one set and time period. Think of a chase in film. It may wander from mountain to the sea. It can take ten physical locations. But it’s all one scene. Look at one definition of the scene: It’s a unit in which the protagonist has some goal that’s thwarted. Tension enters and builds, continuously, as the protagonist tries to get things back under control. That doesn’t work and things continue to go wrong, on the edge of control, but with some hope of winning, until something happens to make the goal unattainable, at least for the present. The scene ends and sequel begins, as the protagonist recovers and rethinks. • How important is this structure in terms of each individual scene? Without tension you’re writing a chronicle. People do and say things, but it’s not moving the plot forward, so the reader can go or stay. But if there’s a problem being faced, and a time limit in which it must be resolved, the reader will say, “Okay, just a few more pages.” People read to worry, remember. They want to be shot at. They want things to go wrong. A reader is at their happiest when they’re given reason to say, “Oh my God, what do we do now?” • But over the course of the novel not every goal relates directly to the end goal, and some of them are minor and easily fixed. Subplots enrich a story. But keep this in mind: If the major “problem,” isn’t in the forefront of the protagonist’s mind you need a more pressing problem. And, the subplot will usually arise from actions relating to the primary plot. For example, the character needs to go somewhere and their car won’t start. That event must influence the plot movement in some way, perhaps by placing the character in a place they wouldn’t normally have gone, thus providing the inciting incident. At the same time, the car unreliable kicks off a subplot. Perhaps he drops the car off and meets a pretty mechanic. Perhaps the unreliable transportation becomes a running joke. Your protagonist might have a friend who helps, and the friend meets the helper of the antogonist, and they strike sparks. Bang, another subplot. The article you mentioned is one I often recommend. But it’s incomplete. If it seems to make sense, you need to look at the source, Dwight Swain’s, Techniques of the Selling Writer (easiest to find on Amazon). It’s far more detailed, and carries a lot more then just the idea of scene and sequel. It’s the best book on the nuts-and-bolts of writing that I’ve found. His section on POV is worth the price of the book.