I’m what you call a Pantser, not a planner. When I write, I fly by the seat of my pants and let my characters take over. However, after having to do a “wholesale rewrite” of my debut novel for my current publisher, Crimson Romance, I realized I needed structure.
That’s why I started to veer away from writing chapters and instead switched gears to begin writing in a series of scenes and sequels. When something happens to our characters (scenes), our characters must react (sequels) to that incident or situation by feeling, thinking, planning and taking action.
Now, I’m not an expert. If you want to know the ins and outs of scenes and sequels, I suggest reading Jack M. Bickham’s Scene and Structure. He goes more in depth on this subject and uses excerpts from his own works as examples.
According to Bickham, a scene is “…a segment of story action, written moment-by-moment, without summary, presented onstage in the story ‘now.’ It is not something that goes on inside a character’s head; it its physical.”
Pretend you’re watching a movie. The scene consists of action and dialogue. A scene should have a stated GOAL. What does the hero or heroine want from this scene? The scene should introduce and develop a CONFLICT. What prevents him/her from getting what they want? And by the end of the scene, the hero or heroine should face a DISASTER or FAILS to reach his/her goal.
Suddenly, the reader wants to flip to the next page or chapter to discover what happens next. Congrats! You have them hooked. But wait there’s still the SEQUEL. I love sequels because that’s when you really get into your character’s head.
According to Bickham, “A sequel begins for your viewpoint character the moment a scene ends.” To summarize Bickham, the character first reacts to the SCENE (think movie — action, dialogue, physical) by feeling, followed by thinking then deciding to end at action.
This reaction through feeling, thought, decision and action is what makes a SEQUEL. Another way to look at this is cause and effect. When something happens to our characters, how do they feel? What are they thinking? What will they do next and how will they get “next” done? When this sequel is through, then it goes into the next scene (action, dialogue, something is happening rather than someone is thinking) and so forth until there is a sequence of scenes and sequels.
Mastering scene and sequel helps with pacing and moves a story forward to the best two words, THE END.
Here is an example of scenes and sequels from my novella, If Only. Unless otherwise stated, a scene is happening. This scene has a goal, motivation and conflict. Remember, don’t make this hard. Just ask yourself, what does my character want? Why? And what prevents him/her from getting it?
The knock on her door roused her out of her light sleep. It wasn’t the incessant knocking, but rather the arctic temperature of her place that got her attention. Asa jumped out of bed, tossed on some clothes, and threw open her sheer curtains. White everywhere.
From the front of the house, the knocking grew louder. She rushed for the door and was ready to yank it open, but caution reminded her to glance out the window first. Drawing apart the curtain, her gaze met Rhys’s. He stared back, one of his brows lifting as though he questioned why he was still out there in the freezing cold.
There were many reasons to keep the door shut. One, Asa wasn’t ready to speak to him. Two, she wasn’t vain, but the thought of him seeing her with her hair a mess and pillow marks on her face had her cringing. And finally, she couldn’t get over the fact it had snowed. She wasn’t prepared, and Rhys would soon realize that, calling attention to another fault of hers. Motivation= not prepared to talk to him, she looks a mess, and she doesn’t want him calling out another of her faults — being unprepared.
To get him to go away, she opened the door a crack. “I have nothing to say to you, Rhys Miles, other than I’m sorry for your loss.” Goal= get Rhys to go away.
He nodded, but didn’t leave. A low growl started in her throat. Didn’t he get the message he needed to go so she could run to the woodshed and get firewood for a fire she didn’t know how to make?
“I came by to check on you. Jo’s generator kicked on which means the power is out. Do you have enough firewood? Hell, can you even start a fire?” Conflict= Rhys isn’t leaving until he knows she’s okay.
What the —? Had she hear him right, and his words were meant to come across as a double meaning, implying she wasn’t capable of turning a man on? Thinking he did, Asa clenched her teeth and yanked the door wide open. To hell with her appearance. Sequel- feeling irritated, thinking she’s misunderstood him, decides to take action by opening the door to face him despite her appearance.
“For your information, I can start a fire without a damn match. And I have enough firewood to last me months.” She could question her abilities to seduce a man but she wouldn’t tolerate Rhys’s below-the-belt jab. Realizing her temper had reared its ugly head, she forced her body to relax. Scene followed by sequel of her thoughts. Can you “feel” her annoyance? And she’s gone into action mode, forcing her body to relax.
She would have given him the death glare at the underlying challenge in his voice, but he had his hands steepled over his mouth while he shifted from one foot to the other. White puffs of condensation lingered in the air. Grumbling, she grabbed him by the elbow and tugged him inside. The house might not be warm but it beat being outside. Scene. We can “see” this happening.
They stood in her living room and stared at one another in silence. Minutes ticked by.
He looked her up and down, his gaze settling on her chest. Her cheeks flushing and her nipples in tight balls, she resisted the urge to cross her arms over herself. In her rush, she’d forgotten to wear a damn bra. Scene of something physical happening (he looks her up and down) with a sequel of feeling (cheeks flushed- she’s embarrassed) followed by thought (realizes no bra), decision and action (resist urge to cross her arms over herself).
Disaster = she forgot to wear a bra, she’s embarrassed, and the guy she’s had a crush on since high school is ogling her. What will she do next?
Okay, well I hope that helps. Now that you know the structure (yes, as a pantser I dislike structure) of putting together scenes and sequels, there's no fast and hard rule that there has to be large chunks of one or the other. As you can see from the above, my scenes and sequels are intermixed together. Scene and sequel can be frustrating to understand but remember to write, write, write. Practice makes a huge difference. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me via my website or on CC.
Ashlyn Mathews, Paranormal and Contemporary Romance Author of Shadow Watcher, My Fallen, and If Only