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I'm using the Scene/Sequel model to go from an informal outline of my novel to a list of scenes. In summary, during a Scene the POV Character has a Goal, encounters some Conflict, and it ends in Disaster; during a Sequel, the POVC has a Reaction to this disaster, faces a Dilemma, and finally makes a Decision.

I'm having trouble figuring out how this structure applies to a specific part of what I'm writing. As the Disaster of the previous scene, the POVC is declared a traitor by his superior, who will execute him immediately. The Reaction of the POVC is to resign to die; however, after some thought, his superior decides to let him live.

What happens with this second scene? It has the Reaction of the POVC, but the Dilemma and Decision of another, non-POV character. Should I ignore this breakage of the rules and go forward happily, because this is a tool that should help me instead of limiting me? Should I figure a way to merge this segment as part of the previous and next scenes, to follow a proven structure?

Or maybe I got the scale wrong, and all of these things I'm thinking of as "scenes" are actually small parts of a bigger scene with bigger goals, conflicts, etc?

More generally, should everything be a scene? Can I skip parts of the scene, e.g. have a Reaction, skip the Dilemma and the Decision, and have a new Goal - or another way to put it, can the Dilemma and the Decision take just a few words?

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I am no expert, but I do not think it is a hard and fast rule. As far as I have noted, the Scene/Sequel structure is used with the sole intention of driving the novel forward. This subsequent following of a Proactive scene (Scene) by a Reactive Scene (Sequel) is most of the time used to raise stakes.

In a thriller, the Reactive scenes are shorter because a thriller is generally fast paced. So you do have the authority to customize the paradigm. But certainly, do not do so to such an extent that it creates confusion and/or seem incompatible with the previous scene.

For your scene that you have described, let's plot it:

Proactive

Goal:

Conflict:

Disaster: Declared traitor.

Reactive

Reaction:

Dilemma:

Decision: resign and die.

And now here, if you insert a Proactive scene, According to me, there will be incompatibility. Instead, what i think you should do is, Followed by the decision of the reactive scene, give him the good news that he will not be executed and then insert a conflict followed by a dilemma and a decision and then continue with the paradigm. So it becomes this:

Proactive

Goal:

Conflict:

Disaster: Declared traitor.

Reactive

Reaction:

Dilemma:

Decision: resign and die.

surprise : Will not be executed

Conflict : But...

Dilemma : So the choice is difficult between... <- you may omit this.

Decision : hence he will. <-this sets the goal for the following Proactive/Reactive sequence.

Proactive ...

Reactive ...

hope that helps! :)

  • +1 excellent post. I'll highlight your thriller point by adding: action books feel like action books because they tend to go from scene to scene, with very few sequels. Introspective literary books feel like introspective literary books because they're mostly sequels. You don't need to have a 1 to 1 relationship between scene and sequel. – Patches Jun 25 '12 at 23:47
  • Yes. Essentally. And thanks! Appreciate it, @Patches – Amin Mohamed Ajani Jun 26 '12 at 12:01
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I also follow the Scene Sequel structure, and have encountered the same issues as you describe. This is how I've dealt with it.

The first thing I did was rename them Heads and Tails, because I found the original terminology so awkward.

So a head is where there is a goal, conflict and disaster, and a tail is where there is the reaction, dilemma, decision.

Secondly, I decided that heads and tails do not necessarily need to exactly line up with scenes. A Tail might be no more than a few sentences at the end of a scene. Also, a single Head might go on for several scenes, as the protagonist keeps meeting more and more obstacles before the final disaster.

Thirdly - don't forget that sometimes you might have an 'incident' this is a scene where the protagonist wants to do something, and they do it. No disaster.

Regarding your example in particular, it doesn't sound like the person deciding to be resigned to dying quite fits in any case. I've broken it down a bit more and it looks like this to me:

  • Disaster - will be executed
  • Reaction - resignation
  • Dilemma - fight back or just let it happen
  • Decision (goal) - just let it happen

(by the way, this isn't a great goal because it's not pro-active, but let's ignore that for now)

  • Goal - allow self to be executed
  • Conflict - superior changes mind

Which means we're currently about to see the protagonist's disaster - which must be 'not being executed' in order to thwart their goal. It's a bit odd, but that's how it follows through to me...

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Scene/Sequel is less of a rule, and much more like guidelines. If the guidelines don't fit your writing needs feel free to use some other technique that does.

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A thought. None of these rules are in stone. Generally, they're great to follow and won't let you down but now and then BOOM..."It has the Reaction of the POVC, but the Dilemma and Decision of another, non-POV character." If it can be done, for instance, you're writing in the subjective third person, you could go into another POV and give that character his/her own scene in which the sequel can be left hanging to be completed at another time. I don't know how you'd weave it together, but nothing wrong with a little experimenting as long as the character develops and the conflict rises and falls.

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