Scene and Sequel

Here are some notes from my workshop on scene and sequel. Remember, this is the short version. If you are interested in having me teach this session at a writer’s conference, please contact me.

Scene and Sequel

Scene and sequel is that technique that keeps your readers reading.

It works to give the reader a continuous hook, except it’s not so obvious like at the end of every chapter of a Nancy Drew book.

Using Scene and Sequel is a tool to entice your reader through your story, so they don’t want to put the book down.

First, we assume we know our characters, with a premise or storyline.

We know the beginning. We know the ending.

Then we fill in the middle. That’s the plot.

Developing a plot

  1. Create a character
  2. Discover his or her greatest problem
  3. Have the character try to solve the problem.
  4. Get the character in trouble while trying to solve the problem – new problems arise
  5. Repeat 3 & 4 until the character finally succeeds or fail. This repeting is Scene and Sequel.

Swain defines a Scene like this: A scene is a unit of conflict lived through by character and reader.

Swain defines a Sequel like this: A sequel is a unit of transition that links two scenes, like the coupler between two railroad cars. It sets forth your focal character’s reaction to the scene just completed, and provides him with motivation for the scene next to come.

That means the scene is your action, and the sequel is your down time.

Doing this successfully is best done in waves. Consider the scenes are the high points, white and foaming at the top – this is where all the action is. Then the wave lowers until the water that was once at the top, furling and churning, is relatively flat and at the bottom, between 2 other waves. It’s calmer here – this is where the surfers are, where they won’t, or shouldn’t, get knocked over, even though the world around them is moving. These are the low points. And notice what is on either side of the low point – there is a high wave on each side.

This is how a book should be – an up followed by a down, then followed by another up, and the cycle continues until we hit the shore, or the end of the book. Whether it is smooth landing or a relief that the surfer didn’t die out there in the horrendous waves, our goal is to hope that the reader enjoyed the trip with the surfer, and they will go back for more and do it again. Or in other words, they will go and buy your next book since they liked this one so much.

Those highs and lows of the waves are the scene and sequel. You can’t have all wave-tops. That would be a never-ending length of fast and/or tense action, which would exhaust the reader. Nor should you have a run of sequels in a row. Instead of just a low point after the action, that becomes a nap.

With the cycling of Scene and Sequel, you’ve got action, which is the high point, followed by a re-action, which is the low point that builds to the next high point. That low point is where both reader and character take a breath before they are forced to move on, ready for the next moment/scene of struggle.

When done well, this is good pacing.

Here are the definitions of the components of the pattern of Scene and sequel.


1) Goal – What does the character want. The Goal must be specific and it must be clearly definable
Your character should enter the Scene wanting something specific and concrete. The character’s scene goal should be short-range and urgent for that moment in time. At the same time, the reader needs to be aware of the story goal.

2) Conflict- This is the failure to achieve what the protagonist seeks, at least for this time frame. Why can’t they have what they want? Make it hard, even possibly unattainable, or if attainable, with some risk or sacrifice, or at least a really big change. There must be struggle. No victory has any value if it comes too easy.

3) Disaster – what happens as a result of the conflict in action (1.feeling, 2. reflex, 3. rational action) – Hang your POV character off a cliff and your reader will turn the page to see what happens next. A Disaster is a totally unexpected action or new information that leaves the character at a loss. It serves as an ending hook to keep the reader reading. It should be completely believable but Truly Horrible.


1) Reaction – Give your reader a chance to hurt with your characters. This is the time for contemplations leading up to a decision.  This is a time to weep or lick their wounds.

2) Dilemma – a situation with no good options. Your reader must be wondering what can possibly happen next.   Eventually, let him come to the least-bad option .

3) Decision – Make it risky, but make it have a chance of working. This sets the goal for next scene – character becomes proactive again. Make the decision risky, but has a chance of working.

Good luck, and happy writing.

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