Scene and Sequel Structure (the structure of scenes)
The Scene and Sequel structure is a useful writing structure from the world of narrative fiction. While just one tool among many, this structure is used to add and heighten dramatic interest in a scene. Basically, it is a six-part structure (two sets of three elements) made up of the following parts to assist in the design of dramatically satisfying scenes…
The goal – the protagonist in the scene pursues a clear goal (one that the audience MUST be made aware of).
The obstacle – the protagonist encounters an obstacle to the achievement of the goal
The disaster – a disaster strikes that frustrates the protagonists’ chances of achieving the goal
The reaction – the protagonist experiences an immediate reaction to the disaster – in an emotionally satisfying and authentic way.
The rehearsal – the protagonist works through the available options (and their potential consequences) in responding to the disaster.
The choice – the protagonist chooses from the available options and establishes a new goal that leads directly into the next scene
This structure is repeated until the story reaches its conclusion.
Some writers argue that the disaster of the scene should result in alternating up and down beats that advance the story towards its climax.
Example Scene and Sequel (A fishing trip)
Returning to his home town after ten years, John discovers his favourite fishing spot has dried up because the river was diverted. He heads to the library to find out why.
First try (without using the structure):
JOHN: Basil, I’m going fishing!
BASIL: Sorry John, I’ve got some bad news. The river’s dry.
JOHN: What? When did that happen?
BASIL: About ten years ago. It was diverted for use in the mill.
JOHN: Well that’s no good. I wonder what was behind it?
BASIL: The library could probably tell you.
JOHN: Good suggestion. I think I’ll head on over.
Revised version (using the structure to add drama to the scene):
JOHN: Basil, I’m going fishing! [Goal]
BASIL: Don’t be ridiculous, it’s far too hot!
JOHN: I didn’t say you had to come with me. I simply said I’M going.
BASIL: But you can’t. Ivy took the trolley-car into town this morning and your fishing gear is still in the boot of the Bedford.
JOHN: What’s that got to do with it? I can see the Bedford sitting on the lawn outside.
BASIL: She also took the keys with her. [Obstacle]
JOHN: Oh, for goodness’ sake. I’m sure I can get it open with a screw-driver. I think I saw a toolbox out behind the shed.
BASIL: Are you planning to fish off Cutter’s bridge?
JOHN: Hmmm? Yes, that’s the plan.
BASIL: I hate to tell you this old boy, but the river’s dry. Has been for two years now. [Disaster]
JOHN: (SHOCKED) What? [Reaction]
BASIL: Don’t look so forlorn [Reaction]. It’s been a decade since you last visited up here. Things have changed.
JOHN: That river has been flowing under Cutter’s bridge since I was a boy. It can’t be dry.
BASIL: It is. The river was diverted for use in the paper mill about five years ago.
JOHN: (ANGRY) Who’d let them do such a thing? I’d like to wring their necks [Reaction].
BASIL: You remember Carl Rickett? He got himself elected to the local municipal council and pushed through some new by-laws. Most people figure he was in the Mill’s pocket. He bought that house up on Tarlow Hill shortly after.
JOHN: Aw hell. What am I going to do now? I’ve been looking forward to doing some fishing off Cutter’s Bridge since Ivy told me we were coming up here to visit.
BASIL: Sorry, John. Kylie’s got some old records up stairs. We could break out the phonograph. Or maybe you could try the library. That hasn’t changed much. I saw you had a book or two with you when you unpacked [Rehearsal of options].
JOHN: (WEARY) That’s all right Basil. Don’t mind me. (BEAT) Actually, I might go into the library, at that. Do they still keep all the municipal records in there?
BASIL: Sure do. Like I said, the library hasn’t changed one whit.
JOHN: Then I might head on down and see if I can take a look at how the Mill actually got their greedy hands on the town’s only source of recreational fishing. [Choice – new goal].
Well, I guess even a thwarted fishing trip can be made a bit more interesting when a little dramatic structure is applied to it.
So, do you have any special tricks you use to add interest and tension to a scene? I’m really keen to hear any thoughts, ideas, tricks, techniques, suggestions and advice you might have. Tell me about them in the comments below.
This article is © 2017 by Philip Craig Robotham – all rights reserved.