BTL Critiques client, and my good friend, Pamela Palmer was at ComicCon in NYC this past weekend. She was interviewed about her Feral Warriors book, Rapture Untamed. Check it out!
If you’ve ever studied Dwight Swain or Jack Bickham you’ve heard about scene goals and disasters. If you haven’t, check out my blog post on the topic. Scene goals and disasters are great for moving your plot along, creating conflict and tension, and – my favorite – forcing you to be mean to your characters.
But sometimes what you need isn’t a scene with goals and disasters. Sometimes what you need is a sequel.
What’s a sequel you ask?
A sequel is
…the glue that holds scenes together and helps you get from one to the next. It is a flexible structural component, and it provides you with all the tools you need for in-depth characterization, analysis of motivation, explanation of character planning, etc.
Scene & Structure by Jack Bickham
(my all time favorite writing book!)
A sequel doesn’t have a goal/disaster but it does have four steps that the character will go through:
- Emotion – the emotional reaction to whatever happened in the scene before (or the last scene this character was in)
- Thought – thinking through what just happened
- Decision – deciding what he/she is going to do about what just happened
- Action – this will give you a new goal for that character, so you frequently can go into the next scene with the action/new goal.
What exactly do you use a sequel for in your story?
- Provides a moment in the story for a character to process what just happened in a previous scene,often an action scene where there isn’t time to stop and delve into the emotional impact of what’s happening.
- Allows you to show the interior effects of something that just happened.
- Allows the reader to get the reaction of a character who was not the pov character in the previous scene. If you tend to head hop, instead of switching point of view mid-scene, use a sequel after the scene to show the other character’s reactions to what just happened.
- They can give your reader a breather after an action packed or highly emotional scene.
- Allows the author to use the character’s thinking process to give the reader information about things that happened before the story started or in any time that has elapsed between chapters or scenes.
- Helps control pacing (slower or faster)
- Reveals motivation
- Reveals a goal for a future scene.
- Is useful when you need more than a simple transition
In every case a sequel allows you to show the process a character goes through while reacting to one story element and how they arrive at the motivation for their next actions.
Joanna’s palms were sweaty as she stood in the deserted hall outside her boss’s office door. If he figured out she was chasing myths again he’d never agree to her plan, no matter how interesting the cover story, and she desperately needed him to help her get the artifact here to Richmond. It was the only way she’d ever get to see it in person.
And she had to see it… touch it… figure out what it meant.
She scrubbed her face and shoved her fingers through her hair. There was no telling if he’d buy her story, but there was only one way to find out. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, willing the rapid thumping of her heart to slow down so its pounding wouldn’t give her away to Tom. Tom knew her way too well.
Can you see the emotion? It’s all over the place in this example – I tend to write that way. Emotion points:
- Palms were sweaty
- Desperately needed…
- Scrubbed her face and shoved her fingers through her hair.
- Took a deep breath and let it out slowly, willing the thumping of her heart to slow down.
Can you see the thought?
- If he figured out…the cover story
- I was the only way she’d ever get to see it — she had to see it…
Can you see the decision?
- There was only one way to find out.
Can you see the action?
- She tries to slow her heart.
- She knocks.
Look at your current wip. Do you have any sequels? If you do, are all four stages present? If you are missing one, it’s likely either the emotion stage or the action stage. Make sure you don’t give the emotion stage short shrift. It’s the number one problem I find in my critique client’s sequels (other than missing sequels!) and it’s the stage that really makes your characters real to your reader.
If you are missing the action stage check to see if the action is implied, or if the action is what starts the next scene. The action stage is the easiest one to skimp on, but it needs to at least be implied.
You may also find that the four stages are sometime switched around — though I strongly believe the emotional reaction needs to come first. You may also find that stages repeat, as in the example sequel above. The emotion weaves through the whole sequel. Thought is another one that can easily repeat in a sequel.
You are likely to use sequels more often in the early part of your story, and less often later simply because later in the story the reader has gotten to know what makes the character tick already. And while I haven’t done an exhaustive study, I think most “black moments”, that time just after the main character has experienced an emotional crises near the end of a story, are sequels. The decision part of that black moment sequel gives the character a new goal and that propels the character into the climax of the story.
Keep your character’s character in mind.
If you have a very emotional character then the emotion stage may almost overpower the sequel and the thought stage may be minimal. Likewise, if you have a very logical, controlled character, the emotion stage may be only half a sentence and the thought stage longer. The length of the sequel may vary by the type of character for the same reasons. Someone very emotional may take longer to sort through everything and come to a decision. Someone very unemotional may be able to cut to the chase of the decision in a sentence or two. In this way the form your sequel takes subtly reinforces your characterization.
A great example of where to use a sequel is after a love scene.
You don’t want to wander away from the action in love scene – no flashbacks, no logical thoughts about “what does this mean”, no planning for what needs to happen next. You want the reader to be as lost in the physical and emotional experience as your characters are. However, a love scene inevitably changes things between the characters, even if they don’t want to admit it.
Following a love scene it’s quite common to have a sequel where one of the characters reacts to the love-making. First, you describe/show the emotional reaction, then the character thinks about what just happened and what it means/what are the ramifications in a logical way, then the character makes a decision about how to move forward, and acts on that decision. Which in turn sets up a goal for the next scene (and you are back to scene goals and disasters and being mean to your characters!).
Want to know more about sequels?
You can learn more about both scene goals and disasters, and sequels from Jack Bickham’s book, Scene and Structure, published by Writer’s Digest Books and usually available through bookstores/book sites. I also offer a workshop for writing groups on this topic. The next on-line workshop, Scene CPR: Scene Goals, Disasters, and Sequels, will be offered in March 2011. Info will soon be available here.
Pamela Palmer, my long time friend and critique partner, hit the big time this week! She has a story in Bitten by Cupid, out this month, which hit #14 on the New York Times bestseller list and #103 on the USA Today list! Indulge in an excerpt from Pamela’s Feral novella Hearts Untamed (it’s great!), find out More About the Book and order it today!
Addendum evening of 1/27 — it’s now in its second week on the list and it has moved UP to #13 on the NYT list and #58 on the USA Today list!
And the winners of the birthday presents are…
Scene and Structure, by Jack Bickham (my favorite writing book!) goes to Tina Glasneck!
The free 25 page critique goes to Anna G. — but I don’t have any contact info for Anna. 😦
Anna G., if you see this please contact me at Laurin @ Wittig.com (no spaces). If you know Anna G — I think she might be a Washington Romance Writers member — please let her know she won.
If I don’t hear from her by next Wednesday I’ll let the random number generator genie choose another winner, so stay tuned!
Thanks to everyone who stopped by and left good wishes!
P.S. (Friday AM) Anna G has been located!
I’ve been thinking for a while now that e-publishing is about to really take off. The Kindle, with Oprah’s help via endorsement on her show, has proven that people are willing to read this way. Heck, I’ve gotten to where I prefer to read this way.
A friend lent me a book last week. It’s big. It’s hardback size, but paper back. It’s hard to read in bed, or to carry around. I read enough to know that I’m interested in reading the whole thing, but then turned to a book waiting for me on my Kindle. I returned the big honkin’ book to my friend and downloaded the free sample of it from Amazon.
Now, here’s the thing about the free samples…
I’ve already read enough of the book to know I want to read more, but I use the free samples as a virtual TBR pile (that’s a To Be Read pile for those of you that aren’t book horders). I’m in the midst of another book at the moment but I don’t want to forget to read the loaned book. If I go ahead and buy the ebook it may get moved off my front page and I’ll forget if I’ve read it or not. Really, I will. I’m bad with titles. But if it’s a sample, then I know that 1. I haven’t read it yet and 2. I was interested in it enough to put it in my Kindle.
When I get done with my current read, I’ll look through the four or five e-books in my virtual TBR pile (samples) and decide which one I’m ready to read. I can choose to download it right from the last page of the sample and voila, another book has moved off the TBR pile and is getting read.
That’s why I, Laurin-the-reader, love my Kindle 2.
But I’m also Laurin-the-writer and I’m really intrigued by the idea of publishing through Amazon/Kindle. Author Joe Konrath shares his experience (meaning royalty statement info!!) with Kindle publishing as compared to traditional NYC paper publishing on his blog: Kindle Numbers: Traditional Publishing Vs. Self Publishing.
Now, compared to Mr. Konrath, my books are unknowns to most people, so I know that my numbers would be smaller. To date my publisher has only published one of my books in electronic format and it has typically sold a handful of copies per year for the last four or five years. My last royalty statement shows 24 copies sold in the previous 6 months. That would, theoretically at least, equate to 50 ebooks sold this year. Wow. It’s an old, mostly forgotten book, but it’s e-sales are rising without me doing any promotion. And while I make a generous 15% on these e-sales, I could set my own price and reap a 35% royalty from self-publishing through Kindle/Amazon.
Unfortunately I don’t have my rights to my books back yet, but when I get them (soon I’m hoping) I will definitely be experimenting with this new way form of publishing.
Well, the youngest kid is back in school today, so I’m bidding a fond farewell to summer, and turning an excited eye towards fall. I’ll admit it, I was one of those kids who yearned for school to start back. I whiled away the hours reading in the summer, but lived for September.
Let’s just say it, I was (and still am) a nerd.
I love to learn.
I particularly like to learn something new, then teach it to someone else. If I were to teach a creative writing class this fall, the following would be the Top Five books on the reading list:
This one is my bible. I go back to it again and again. Bickham’s points about scene goals and disasters, and sequels, help me plan my scenes before I write them, and help me revise them when the time comes. They also help me make sure I’m being true to my characters’ goals instead of forcing them to move through the plot machinations I dream up, which in turn helps to make my characters more real.
I find myself passing on Bickham’s wisdom again and again to my critique partners and my critique clients, from the multi-published to the newly writing, and I’m amazed at how few people understand these simple but powerful writing tools.
2. Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
This is a fairly new addition to my must have shelf. I confess I’m transfixed by his “beat sheet” where you can test your plot against time honored story elements, but the guy has a way of making everything he talks about easily understood. BTW, screenwriting books are great even if you don’t write screenplays. Movies are short by comparison to books, but they are based on the same classic story structure. I find it much easier to study that structure through movies. If you are plot challenged, as I am, this makes for a great way to study lots of stories in a relatively short amount of time.
3. The Comic Toolbox: How to Be Funny Even If You’re Not by John Vorhaus
Confession, I haven’t read this whole book, though what I have read has notes scrawled in the margins. What I depend on for helping me develop both a story and a character is his chapter (#7) on “The Comic Throughline.” This is a quick and dirty way to see if your character can carry the story. I use it to help guide me in building a character, the steps acting as prompts for me to explore different aspects of my character and fine tune them. I discovered Vorhaus’s (hilarious) writing book when a friend sent me a link to that chapter 7 (which Mr. Vorhaus kindly shares there). You can find it here: The Comic Throughline. I ended up buying the book because I thought he was brilliant and must have other gems to teach me. He does.
4. The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writersby Christopher Vogler
This one is a little denser than the previous three, but it breaks down the mythic structure of stories, originally identified by the great Joseph Campbell, into steps you can apply to your own stories. I like to dip into this one when my plot is meandering, or when I’m trying to see the plot of a new book, and aways find nuggets of insight that steer me back in a productive direction.
5. Myth and the Movies: Discovering the Mythic Structure of 50 Unforgettable Films by Stuart Voytilla
This is a fabulous companion volume to The Writer’s Journey. It takes movies (remember, that’s how I prefer to study story structure & plot) and breaks them down into the same categories that The Writer’s Journey identifies. It also has lovely visual aids in the form of The Hero’s Journey Model (a circle that shows each of the mythic steps for each movie analyzed!). What can I say, pictures are worth a thousand words — at least as a quick reference. 🙂
So, there’s my Top Five writing books, but wait…there’s more. I have one more to share. In New Orleans, where I once lived, they call this lagniappe (pronounced roughly, lan-yap) — a little something extra.
This does for Save the Cat! what Myth and the Movies does for The Writer’s Journey. It takes the beat sheet that Snyder explains in Save the Cat! and applies it to movies in ten different genres. Examples galore!!! Examples are right up there with visual aides in my preferred learning tools.
So, it’s September.
School is back in session.
Teacher Laurin says pick up a new-to-you writing book and see if you can learn something new about your craft. Then share that new knowledge with someone else! Heck, come back here and share it with me. I’m a nerd. I love to learn.
P.S. If you have a favorite how-to writing book, please share in the comments!
Filed under: Craft of Writing, Favorite Books, Writer's Library | Tagged: back to school, goals, how-to, scene disasters, scene goals, sequels, Top 5, Top Five, writer's resources, writing books | Leave a comment »
I’m sending out a huge HUZZAH! to my dear friend, and Between the Lines Critiques client, Pamela Palmer.
Her third Feral Warriors book, Passion Untamed, has hit the Top 10 on the Borders romance best sellers list. If you love dark paranormal romance, I highly recommend you check out Pam’s awsome new series.
For the low down on the Feral Warriors and all her other amazing books visit Pam’s web site: PamelaPlamer.net
Don’t miss her bulletin board if you want to get in on great conversation and a don’t miss contest: Pamela’s Bulletin Board
I’m so proud of Pam’s success I just had to share. ♥