Hi, welcome to Write Better Now, a podcast of quick, weekly writing tips meant to help you become a better writer. We’re your hosts with NYT bestselling author Carrie Jones and copyeditor extraordinaire Shaun Farrar. Thank you for joining us.
Story is basically a sequence of events, right? And to create a story you have to put that sequence of events together in a way that’s going to jive to the reader or for the reader.
To do that you need scenes, which make up that sequence of events.
A scene is the basic unit of a story, and there are two main types of scenes:
- The scene
- The sequel
Dwight Swain wrote a book called the Techniques of a Selling Story, and he basically defined them this way,
“A scene is a unit of conflict lived through by the character and reader.”
There are three big pieces there:
- A conflict
- Lived through
- Character and reader
In a scene there needs to be conflict, immersion so your reader can relate to what’s happening to the character and LIVE THROUGH that character.
To have a conflict, you need to have a goal for your character so that something can obstruct it and your reader can worry.
It all makes sense, right?
Swain goes on to say that a scene must:
- Be interesting
- Move that story forward
He then writes that in order for a scene to make the story progress,
“it changes your character’s situation; and while change doesn’t always constitute progress, progress always involves change.”
And in each scene you need to have:
- Goal- what the character wants (to own something, to be free of something, revenge)
- Conflict (something keeping your character from that goal)
- Disaster (Swain calls this the “logical yet unanticipated development that throws your focal character for a loss.”
The sequel is what happens after that scene. It connects one scene to the next, Swain says. It’s a transition.
And its goals are to (in his words):
Translate the disaster into goal
Control the tempo
It’s here that decisions are made. It’s here that the protagonist reorients themselves. It’s here where the protagonist has to find answers and possibilities and deal with what just happens and turn it into a new goal. And it often involves a bit of summary or exposition.
And these sequel/transitional places control the tempo of a story because they give the reader a tiny bit of a pause, slowing down the pacing. I’ll have more about scenes in my substack. The link is below and also here.
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