You’ve got a fantastic idea for a book of fiction. A great conflict drives the story and you write action scene after action scene in a burst of creativity. But without sequels your reader won’t care. No, not the sequel to the book. The sequels to your scenes. Sequel is one of the most important parts of your story.
What Is a Scene’s Sequel
Most authors of how-to-write books use the term scene and define that term in the same way. For the sequel, different authors label it differently, but the functions remain the same.
Dwight V. Swain calls this unit of storytelling a sequel and describes as “a unit of transition between two scenes.” James Scott Bell calls it reaction and Robert McKee calls it the “emotional transition.”
Merriam Webster defines sequel as “consequence, results.”
Think of it this way: your protagonist fought a battle (real or figurative) with the antagonist. Win or lose, both your character and your reader need a moment of recovery. That moment of recovery, the sequel reveals how your protagonist reacts to this win or lose. It can be a few sentences or paragraphs or pages.
There are three parts to a sequel: Reaction, Analysis, and Dilemma.
Reaction appears to be the easiest part of a sequel, but it’s not. It is where you can connect, or disconnect, with your reader.
Each protagonist will have a different emotional reaction to a scene. What if halfway through the novel, Harry Potter gave us the more factual, less emotional reactions of Jack Reacher? Readers would disconnect because it’s untrue to what they know of Potter up to that point.
How much reaction? That depends on two things: the character and the emotional impact of the scene. The weightier the emotional value of the scene’s conflict, the more important the sequel’s reaction.
A true-to-the-character reaction does two things. It gives the reader a place to connect to your protagonist and it reinforces the theme of your story. But the emotional reaction alone will not solidify the reader’s empathy and connection with the protagonist.
Besides the emotional reaction, the sequel gives the reader an analysis of what happened in the scene leading up to the sequel. Did we win or lose or draw?
Sometimes the character makes a thoughtful analysis of what happened. He’ll figure out how he got into the situation he’s in. Another character might make a snap analysis or place blame upon the wrong oppositional character.
This is where you can slip in some backstory. Your protagonist will reflect (briefly) on how this situation relates or compares to past situations. Or, you may show how some part of her past affects her emotional reaction and her analysis of the previous scene.
One of the most important pieces of sequel is the dilemma. The result of her analysis leaves her with a choice of two or more next actions.
When the reader sees the character’s internal process, how and why she her choice, the reader relates more to the character.
You will ratchet up the stakes or tension of the story if the protagonist must choose between the lesser of two evils or greater of two goods. Once again, her choice reinforces the story’s theme.
Must I Write Sequels?
Is a full sequel necessary for every scene? The quick answer is yes, every scene needs a reaction. It can be very short or very long. The length and intensity of a sequel affects the pacing.
The writer must be careful in crafting the sequel. If it’s too long, it can give the reader a reason to put the book down. Study your favorite author’s use of scene and sequel. That should give you a good idea of how long your sequels should be.
The sequel is the stimulus for the next scene. Often, a writer experiences writer’s block because she’s forced the character into a sequel that doesn’t fit the character or because she’s skipped the sequel entirely.
The scene is the big picture. It shows the action your characters take to solve their problem. Scenes can be big drama, huge action, or small actions, small dramas. They can include one or more of your characters. They take place in familiar or exotic locations. And if that’s all that you have in your story, you may have readers, but you won’t have readers who love your characters.
Without sequels your readers won’t care. With the skillful use of sequels, you will hook your reader into loving (or hating) your protagonist and reading on to find out what happens next.
Do you need to know more about story structure? Check out Scenes, the Lego Bricks of Story Structure.
If you have questions or would like to share examples, please put those in the comments below.