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Understanding Scenes and Sequels
Posted: Sunday, February 19, 2012 5:46 PM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 34

There's lots I'd like to discuss about the whole concept of Scenes and Sequels (I'm thinking of the Goal-Conflict-Disaster stuff that can be found here: www.advancedfictionwriting.com/art/scene.php
But for now I have two questions:

1) When defining a Scene for these purposes, does it always have to take place over the course of an actual scene? In other words, can the events of the "Scene" (the goal, the conflict, and the disaster) all have to happen within one literally written scene -- within one time and setting (the space set between the little crosshatches)? On a few occasions in my manuscript the entire sequence moves time and place, and thus, rather than writing a transition I change scenes. But the entire G-C-D has not been completed yet.
Likewise with sequels (which I think I already understand are a bit more forgiving) -- they'll cross chapters, even. 
How important is this structure in terms of each individual scene? 

2) All along my character's way he has goals that are thwarted. 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. In some of the scenes they are as simple as the flat tire when he is already late for work (which means nothing to him except annoyance when it happens -- later it leads him to an extra chore to appease the boss... blah blah blah...)
So my question is: how important is it that every goal and disaster be important, or seem important at the time? Does it count to have little ones?


Jay Greenstein
Posted: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 12:25 AM

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.

Posted: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 11:43 AM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 34

Thanks. I've been driving myself nuts, looking at each individual "scene" (little "s") and trying to identify the goal-conflict-disaster. And sometimes, it IS just the flat tire that Mr. protag fixes pretty easily. (I wouldn't even call it a subplot!) Where's the conflict and disaster in that? It's more like the annoyance and dirty hands. But that's what's between the crosshatches, because otherwise there would be even more dumb transition words while he gets back in the car and rolls down the street and parks in the lot and blah blah blah... all to keep it in one little-s-scene while the reader waited for this minor glitch to lead him to the larger G-C-D. 

I did read Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham, but it was some time ago.

On another note: I get kinda annoyed with books that are tension-filled ALL the time. I like moments to rest (moments of lightness?) Hunger Games (which I did enjoy, and obviously so did the rest of the world) bordered on TOO tense for me. I felt like I needed a break here and there -- times when I could STOP worrying about what would happen to her. 

Is that what they mean by Sequel? Or am I totally alone in this? 
Elizabeth Moon
Posted: Tuesday, July 3, 2012 1:45 AM
Joined: 6/14/2012
Posts: 195

Stories do need variation of tension, and different readers prefer different amounts.  Thriller readers often want a higher overall level of tension, and less "relaxation time" than in some other genres.  Even so, a constantly tensed muscle cramps...readers too can get a mental cramp if there's no time to relax a little between turns of the screw.

I think you can over-analyze scene-by-scene, and lose the feel of overall structure.  The overall story arc should dominate, and individual scene structure contributes to it--rather than rules it.  If your characterization is sufficiently deep, you have layers of motivations to play with,  multiple goals, ways to change up the game so your protagonist isn't predictably frustrated in every goal all the time.  Yes, readers like seeing struggle, but they don't mind small and unpredictable wins, either...which makes the next frustrated goal all the more powerful. 

Posted: Thursday, July 12, 2012 5:22 PM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 34

I agree with you. But even if I found Hunger Games a bit too much, I'm obviously in the minority. It's a bestseller.

I'm afraid nowadays the reader (or the agent? or the publisher?) does want the protagonist frustrated at every turn. Hence this goal-conflict-disaster formula.

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