If you want to write a novel that keeps your readers engaged and invested in your characters, you must master the art of action and sequel scenes. These are the building blocks of your story. They determine the plot’s pace, tension, and emotional impact and highlight what it all means to your protagonist.
Action scenes show the point of view (POV) character pursuing a goal and meeting obstacles. They may be fast-paced, dynamic, and full of conflict, or more subtle, full of tension and reveals. The key is that there is pursuit towards a scene goal. Action scenes end with a disaster, meaning a setback, failure, or reversal that prevents the character from achieving their goal and puts your protagonist in a worse situation than before.
Sequel scenes show the POV character’s reaction to the disaster as they process their emotions and decide what to do next. They are slower-paced, reflective scenes, full of emotion. Sequel scenes are essential for showing what the events of your story mean to your character. They help the reader empathize with your protagonist’s struggles and motivations. They also give the reader a break after unrelenting action, allowing them to catch their breath and anticipate what will happen next.
Sequels set up the next action scene with insight into motivation that drives the reader forward with deeper insight into what’s at stake for the character: their interiority. If there ever were the perfect place for a sprinkling of backstory, this is where it fits perfectly, just when the reader (and character) are trying to figure how who this person is, was, and could be.
The Structure of Action and Sequel Scenes
The basic structure of action and sequel scenes is as follows:
Action: goal, obstacle, disaster
Sequel: reaction, dilemma, decision
Let’s look at each element in more detail.
Goal: The POV character wants to achieve this in the scene. It should be clear, specific, motivated by their overall story goal, and colored by their unique worldview and history. For example, if the main story goal is to find a missing person, the scene goal could be to visit their last known whereabouts or interrogate a suspect.
Obstacle: This stands in the way of the POV character achieving their goal. Conflict. It could be an external force, such as an enemy, a trap, a deadline, or an internal one, such as fear, doubt, or a flaw. For example, if the scene goal is to interrogate a suspect, the obstacle could be that the suspect is uncooperative or lying.
Disaster: This is how the scene ends with a negative or unexpected outcome for the POV character. It could be a twist, a surprise, a revelation, or a complication that makes things worse for them. For example, if the scene goal is to interrogate a suspect, the disaster could be that the suspect escapes or reveals that they have an alibi.
Reaction: This is how the POV character responds to the disaster. Emotion is the hallmark of this beat. It could be a physical action, such as running away, freezing, or fighting back, or a mental one, such as thinking or remembering. For example, if the disaster is that the suspect reveals that they have an alibi, the emotion could be anger, frustration, sadness, or disappointment.
Dilemma: This is how the POV character feels about the disaster. It should be realistic, consistent, and appropriate to their personality and situation. The emotion must be strong enough to affect your character’s mood and behavior. You can show your character’s emotion through their thoughts, dialogue, body language, etc. More importantly, this is your opportunity to show what this means to the character and how this character processes things based on their background. For example, the character might remember the last time a suspect got away.
Plan: This is what the POV character decides to do next due to the disaster and their processing of the event. It should be logical, proactive, and motivated by their values, worldview, and overall story goal. This could be a plan of action, a change of direction, a resolution of conflict, etc. For example, if the disaster is that the suspect escapes or reveals that they have an alibi, the decision could be to find another lead or to question their assumptions.
The flow of scenes and sequels follow along in a cause-and-effect trajectory as each sequel’s plan leads logically to the goal of the next scene or scenes. There needn’t be one sequel for every scene, and some sequels may only be brief moments within a scene. The overarching goal is to provide a logical path for your reader, showing who your character is and why this matters to them.
Using this structure for your action and sequel scenes, you can create a novel with a strong plot and compelling characters. You can also vary the length and intensity of your scenes to create different effects. For example:
– You can use short action scenes to create suspense and urgency.
– You can use long action scenes to create excitement and climax.
– You can use short sequel scenes to create transitions and continuity.
– You can use long sequel scenes to create depth and development.
The key is to balance your action and sequel scenes according to your genre and style preferences. Some genres require more action than others (thriller or adventure), while others benefit from more sequels (such as romance or literary). Some writers prefer to write more action than sequel (such as James Patterson or Dan Brown), while some prefer to write more sequel than action (such as Jodi Picoult or George R.R. Martin).
Whatever your choice, remember that action and sequel scenes are not separate entities but complementary. They work together to create a satisfying and engaging novel that will keep your readers hooked until the end.
Additional Tips for Perfecting Action and Sequel Scenes
1. Utilizing Scene Breaks Effectively: Scene breaks can serve as breathers, allowing readers to absorb what they’ve read and prepare for what’s coming next. Be mindful of where you place them to maintain a rhythmic flow. For example, in a thriller, a scene break after a significant revelation gives the reader time to digest the twist and prepares them for the following action. Allow your POV character the same time to reflect and show their motivation. By placing these breaks strategically, you can maintain a rhythmic flow, sustaining intrigue and momentum.
2. Emphasizing Setting and Context: Don’t overlook the importance of setting in both action and sequel scenes. An immersive setting can elevate the mood and heighten the stakes. The setting isn’t merely a backdrop; it’s a character that can shape the mood. In a horror novel, a foggy, abandoned mansion might become a symbol of dread. The faster pace of an action scene can give way to a sequel scene, allowing the characters to consider where they are and what they might have missed.
3. The Role of Supporting Characters: Secondary characters can add depth and complexity to both action and sequel scenes. Their interactions with the POV character can enhance the plot and the protagonist’s development. Make sure to keep track of the secondary characters’ locations and actions.
4. Theme and Symbolism: Integrating themes and symbols in your scenes can add layers of meaning, enriching your story’s overall impact. A theme is a central idea or message that runs through the narrative, while symbols are objects, characters, or events that represent these themes. By weaving them into your action and sequel scenes, you create a more profound connection between the plot and the underlying message you want to convey.
Example: In a story about freedom and oppression, a bird’s cage might be used as a recurring symbol.
Action Scene: The protagonist, trapped in a rigid society, witnesses a caged bird struggling to escape. This scene is filled with tension and mirrors their desire for freedom.
Sequel Scene: Later, reflecting on the caged bird, the protagonist ponders their own trapped existence, grappling with their longing for liberation.
Climactic Moment: Finally, when the protagonist breaks free from their constraints, a scene might depict the same bird breaking out of its cage, symbolizing their triumphant escape.
The integration of the theme of freedom and the symbol of the bird’s cage within both the action and sequel scenes amplifies the emotional resonance of the story, creating an enduring and thoughtful impact. By connecting these elements through various scenes, the writer reinforces the thematic undercurrents, allowing the readers to engage with the story on a more profound level.
5. Avoiding Common Pitfalls: Recognize and steer clear of common pitfalls, such as abrupt transitions, inconsistent character reactions, or overloading information. For example, an abrupt transition between a calm scene and a fight can jar the reader. Such inconsistencies must be smoothed over by paying attention to how scenes flow and avoiding overloading information that may confuse the reader.
6. Engaging All Five Senses: Writing with a sensory approach by including sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch can make your scenes more vivid and relatable. It may not be scene-appropriate to use all five at once but strive to go beyond sight. Describing the salty taste of a tear, the rough texture of a wall, or the echoing sound in a cave can immerse readers in the experience, making them part of the fictional world.
7. Pacing and Rhythm: Balance the rhythm of your action and sequel scenes. Too many fast-paced scenes can exhaust the reader, while too many slow scenes might bore them. Find the rhythm that matches your story’s tone. Imagine a dance; it’s the combination of fast and slow steps that make it beautiful. Action-packed chapters can be followed by reflective sequel scenes to balance the narrative’s rhythm, tailored to the genre and storyline.
9. Use of Language and Tone: Be mindful of the language and tone you use in both scenes. For example, in an action scene, using short, punchy sentences can create tension. In contrast, a sequel scene reflecting on loss might employ longer, flowing sentences filled with emotive language.
10. Consideration of Genre Expectations: Tailor your scenes to meet the expectations of your genre. For example, a thriller might demand more intense action, while a romance might focus more on emotional sequels.
11. Building to a Climax: The arrangement of action and sequel scenes in a way that builds towards the climax is a critical aspect of storytelling. A climax is that pivotal moment in the story where the main conflict reaches its peak, and the protagonist faces their greatest challenge or obstacle. The action and sequel scenes should work together in a crescendo, each scene raising the stakes slightly more, each disaster a bit more severe, and each reaction more profound. This systematic buildup doesn’t just heighten suspense; it also deepens the reader’s investment in the characters and the story.
Example: In a mystery novel, Detective Sarah is on a relentless pursuit to catch a notorious serial killer.
Action Scene: Sarah discovers a clue leading to the killer’s next victim. The scene is tense, with the clock ticking.
Sequel Scene: Sarah reflects on her past failures and the weight of saving a life. The stakes are personal and high.
Action Scene: The killer leaves a taunting note at the crime scene. The stakes are raised; the pursuit intensifies.
Sequel Scene: Sarah battles self-doubt but strengthens her resolve, understanding the killer’s pattern.
Action Scene: A high-stakes chase where Sarah comes face-to-face with the killer, leading to a thrilling showdown.
Climax: Sarah’s confrontation with the killer in a suspense-filled standoff. Every previous action and sequel scene has led to this moment, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.
12. Experimentation and Flexibility: Don’t be afraid to experiment with the structure and elements of your scenes. Sometimes, breaking the rules creatively can lead to fresh and exciting storytelling.
13. Reader Engagement and Feedback: Consider seeking feedback from readers or writing groups to gauge how your action and sequel scenes are perceived. Their insights might reveal areas for improvement that you haven’t considered.
14. Professional Editing and Guidance: If possible, consult with professional editors or writing coaches to polish your scenes. Expert eyes can catch subtleties and nuances that might escape even the most careful writer.
By implementing these principles and techniques, you will not only strengthen your understanding of action and sequel scenes but also enhance your ability to craft engaging and memorable narratives.
Remember, writing is a craft that requires continuous learning, practice, and refinement. Choose writing tools that help you organize, visualize, and track essential story aspects.
Writing software such as Scrivener lets you customize labels and color codes for vital scene attributes such as POV character, setting, as well as action and sequel scenes. Revision software such as Fictionary StoryTeller and StoryCoach include specific elements to track scene types.
Whether you’re a seasoned novelist or a beginner, these strategies can help you take your writing to the next level, creating works that resonate with readers and stand out in today’s competitive literary landscape.