Scene/sequel is only one of many ways to categorize different parts of a book, but it’s what I’m writing about today. Last week we looked at scenes. This week we’re completing the duo with sequels.
As I mentioned last week, Sherry Lewis, the writer, not the Sherry Lewis, the puppeteer and Lamb Chop’s mother. explained to me the difference between a scene and a sequel.
Here’s Sherry’s definition of a sequel: A sequel is a unit of transition that bridges one scene to another, but transition bridges are not always sequels. Sometimes a transition may simply indicated a passage of time. Sometimes a character may end a scene recognizing that he/she needs to make a decision but outside events intervene; the character is too stunned to do more than walk away; or the character’s pro/con reflections might lead him/her to want to gather more information.
What makes a sequel, a sequel is that it is also a dilemma that the character confronts. Sequels are unified by topic. Dilemma involves weighing pros and cons of each possible action and making a choice between two or more equally unsatisfactory choices. Each choice leads to a different goal. Each goal leads the story in a different direction.
Reaction, dilemma, and decision govern sequels. In a sequel, the character is preoccupied with one set of feelings. A sequel translates the disaster into goal, telescopes reality, and controls the tempo of our book. It exists to reveal our character’s reaction(s) to the previous scene and provide her with motivation as she moves into the next scene. Only when the character reaches a decision about which path to follow can the story logically proceed to the next scene.
To recap, every scene ends with a character going back to the drawing board. Laura is in Las Vegas, looking for her mother. A dicy casino character says, for a hefty fee, he will bring her mother to her. Laura has to reassess how important finding her mother really is. Does she trust this character? Is she willing to literally mortgage the family farm to get the money? Is it just possible that her mother had a logical, sensible reason, which is none of Laura’s business, for coming to Las Vegas? Each set of answers will lead Laura and the story in a different direction.
Novels do not bump along scene—sequel—scene—sequel—etc.
Let’s look at our Las Vegas cop, Wally.
- Scene 1: Wally arrives at the scene of a double murder, gathers information, and is told there is an eye witness, who has been taken to hospital to be treated for shock. At this point Wally is not in a dilemma. His next step is clear: interview this witness.
- Scene 2: Wally goes to the hospital and meets Laura. He expects her to come with him to the police station and give a statement. She says absolutely not. She has something else to do, but won’t tell him what. He leaves the emergency room cubicle so Laura can get dressed, and she sneaks out of the hospital. The hospital is searched, but no Laura.
- Does he go in search of her? If so, where does he start?
- Does he issue a be on the lookout bulletin, and return to the murder scene?
- Does the writer want to leave the Laura is missing angle hanging, and take Wally into a third scene in order to establish a sub-plot?
Here’s the key sequel question: is this the right place in the story for a character to confront a dilemma?
One scene may generate multiple sequels, especially if the story is being told from different points of view. While there may easily be several scenes in a row, it’s unusual to have several sequels in a row, but there may be multiple sequels from different POV spread throughout the book.
Sequels vary in length. Some may be very short: the scene ends with a man with a gun invading the protagonist’s house. The sequel is that she picks an escape route and uses it. Or they may be very long. The scene ends with a man learning that he is a prince of the demonic realm. The sequel? He’s going to want to think long and hard about this.
The details we need to know in order to write a sequel are somewhat the same as for a scene, namely season, weather, moon phase; character clothing; way characters move; physical props; and other sensual details that ground the characters in the setting, create texture, or evoke mood.
Avoid Death in the Coffee Shop (or at the kitchen table)
In scenes, physical action helps carry the story. Characters may be, literally, running for their lives or having an argument or trying to download the thumb drive before the security guard makes his rounds again. The problem with sequels is that they are more cerebral. Characters are weighing pros and cons and making a decision.
There is an overwhelming temptation to take them to the nearest coffee shop, or kitchen table, gym workout, or for a long drive where nothing physical happens. Resist those temptations.
Laura is now on the run in Las Vegas. Her rental car is still at the murder site, and her luggage is in the trunk. Does she dare use her credit cards or go to an ATM machine? Can she afford to rent another car? She told the police the hotel where she had a reservation. Does she dare go there? Where is she going to sleep tonight? Where is she going to get her next meal? All of these questions can be used to build tension while Laura decides, am I going to the police station or not?
We’re reaching that hard part, actually writing the novel, so I hope you’ll be back on Tuesday, June 3, for Establishing the skeleton or Draft Zero, the unfinished manuscript.
On Thursday, May 29, Level Thinking will be taking a look at book extras. A book isn’t just written words any more. Want additional readers? Go for value added.