The sexy part of story structure: Scene and Sequel

Write Better Now
Write Better Now
The sexy part of story structure: Scene and Sequel

So last week on the podcast and on our blog where we elaborated a bit, we talked about the four main elements of story structure according to Dwight Swain, who wrote The Techniques of the Selling Writer.

Those were:

  1. Making cool characters.
  2. Grouping your sentences and paragraphs into motivation reaction units.
  3. Grouping those motivation reaction units into scenes and sequels.
  4. Grouping those scenes and sequels into story patterns.

And we talked about motivation reaction units, the sequence of cause and effect within a scene.

Swain describes a scene as a “blow by blow” account of the character as they take the time to get their goal despite the fact that someone or something is opposing them. The scene propels the story. The scene takes place in the a certain space of time.

And within that scene are three steps, he says:

  1. A goal
  2. A conflict to achieving that goal (or opposition).
  3. A disaster.  The disaster in Swain’s structure means that the character is not any closer to her goal and might be even worse off. So sad.

This does not work in the third act of the story when there is a positive change arc and the character ends up in a better place. But it’s great for the beginning and middle of your novel.

And what’s a sequel?

It’s what connects the scenes. It’s where the main character thinks about what just happens and often creates a new goal. It’s where you make the character’s motivation really obvious. It gives the reader a pause between the more active scenes.

And there are three steps of the sequel:

  1. A Reaction to what just happened
  2. A Dilemma that’s what she is dealing with now that the disaster happened
  3. A Decision that’s where she determines what the heck she’ll do next.

A lot of writers that I work with get super confused about the term SEQUEL. Is it not a scene, too? They wonder that. So, sometimes I call them LOUD scenes and QUIET scenes. You can think of them that way, too.

I’ll be going into this a bit more deeply on my blog Living Happy. I hope you’ll check it out.


Writing the Perfect Scene, by Randy Ingermanson
Scene and Sequel: The Ebb and Flow of Fiction, by Mike Klassan

Thanks for listening to Write Better Now.

The music you hear is made available through the creative commons and it’s a bit of a shortened track from the fantastic Mr.ruiz and the track is Arctic Air and the album is Winter Haze Summer Daze.

For exclusive paid content, check out my substack, LIVING HAPPY and WRITE BETTER NOW. It’s basically like a blog, but better. There’s a free option too without the bonus content but all the other tips and submission opportunties and exercises are there.

Author: carriejonesbooks

I am the NYT and internationally-bestselling author of children's books, which include the NEED series, FLYING series, TIME STOPPERS series, DEAR BULLY and other books. I like hedgehogs and puppies and warm places. I have none of these things in my life.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: