Page Turners (Scenes & Sequels)

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Usually my work falls under one of two categories: a story for a video game I’m working on, or novelized fiction. But for the longest time, the stories that I intended to be played (experienced by a player) were easier to write, and more exciting to me. This is because, unknowingly, I was applying the principles of Scenes and Sequels to my game projects but not to my novels.

If you are unfamiliar with Scenes and Sequels, or as I like to call them, action scenes and reaction scenes, the link above is a great introduction. But I can give you a quick rundown.

Action Scene (Scene)

An action scene doesn’t necessarily mean a battle or a fight, it just means you character has motivation and they are working towards a goal. These scenes generally tend to push forward quickly. The character is focused on the goal, or conflicts presented, and not so much on themselves. This is your chance to show your reader who your character is by the actions they take.

GOAL

 The reader needs to know the protagonist’s  goal from the beginning, otherwise they have no connection, nothing to root for, and we risk frustrating the reader and losing their interest. If a protagonist has no goal at the beginning of a scene, conflict has no weight. We only care about conflict when it gets in the way of a goal.

CONFLICT

When the protagonist experiences conflict while attempting to achieve their goal, we see how important the goal is to them, we see the importance of their struggle to push on.

DISASTER

The protagonist experiences a disaster towards the end of the scene which essentially knocks them off their horse, kicks the wind out of them, and leaves them confused and directionless. This ups the tension and ends the scene on an exciting note. Your reader will turn the page to read the next scene, and your character will have some serious thinking to do.

Reaction Scene (Sequel)

The great thing about the Reaction Scene is that it, unlike the Action Scene, can slow down and dig into your characters’ psyches. This is your chance to show your reader who your characters are by their reactions to the dilemma they’re in. These scenes have a tendency to slow down a lot because they take the time to feel the rain and gloom, or whatever. They are a little more “tell” than they are “show,” and they lack forward momentum, so it’s okay if they are shorter than action scenes.

REACTION

The disaster forces the protagonist and the reader to react, to come to terms with what’s taken place. They are in an unexpected place and must first cope with the disaster before being able to move on. This is when the reader really gets to know your characters. think about what’s happened and what must happen next,  what new paths have opened up for them?

DILEMMA

The protagonist has to figure out what they are going to do next. Their goal from the previous scene has been shot out of the sky and they have to weigh their options and come to a decision. You’ll know you’ve created a great disaster when your character has no easy way out.

DECISION

Finally the protagonist comes to a decision, creates a new goal for themselves, and we begin the cycle again with an Action Scene.

Let’s jump back to video games for a moment, for the fun of it. In Super Mario Bros.:

In videogames, the protagonist has to be active otherwise the player has nothing to do, the player needs a goal, and as they work towards that goal they are constantly faced with conflict. But as you can see above, its more than just goals and conflict, there’s a series of events that take place, a rhythm of action and reaction. The player is the protagonist. They are attempting to achieve the goal, they are tackling the conflict and the disaster, and they are reacting to all of it along the way. In novels, the writing must provide a similar experience, the writer must provide the motivation, the action, and also the much needed breathing room after the action for the character (and reader) reaction.

  • Goal: Mario wants to save the princess and makes his way toward the nearest castle to rescue her.
  • Conflict: Mario is faced with enemies and pitfalls along the way that impede him from getting to the castle.
  • Disaster: When he finally gets to the end of the castle, Mario finds King Bowser waiting for him, and though he defeats him, it turns out the princess wasn’t even in that castle, she’s in another one!
  • Reaction/Dilemma/Decision: The player, if they bother reading, feels tricked, like the princess was scooped out from under them, otherwise they are just mashing buttons to skip to the next level to start the process over again…

Some would argue that Scenes and Sequels are the only way to write engaging, three dimensional fiction. But really, it’s pretty straight forward. Action and Reaction is how we live, its ingrained in us, and it makes sense that the stories we write would take similar shape. That said, it never hurts to settle in and examine your writing to see what you’re doing, what you’re missing. Often times writers don’t provide enough breathing room, enough reaction space, or the opposite, too much reaction and not enough action. A balance of the two will keep the pages turning.

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