Tension and Conflict Part 6 – Scene and Sequel Structure

Creating strong emotional tension is needed for conflict to be as effective as it can. As mentioned in a previous blog article on Tension and Conflict, conflict is the action and tension is the emotional response to that action.

An author can enhance tension by creating effective pacing techniques. This has to do with a balance of fast moving scenes to ones that are more contemplative. Each type of scene has a purpose, but along with purpose, the technique enhances tension.

As you know, a novel is a series of chapters often divided into scenes. But scenes also can be thought of in two ways—scenes and sequels. Dwight Swain covers this technique in his book Techniques of the Selling Writer.

Scenes are a moment in time that can last a few minutes to a few hours. The scene is more active than sequel and therefore it means getting into the “meat” of the action as soon as possible. Swain says that each action scene is made up of a goal, a conflict and disaster. Logically each scene will not have the black moment kind of disaster, but a scene should end with something going wrong or a situation that leaves the reader and often the character with questions.

As you approach writing a scene, ask yourself these questions.
• What is the purpose of this scene.
• What is important that the character and/or readers should learn?
• What should this scene accomplish?
This means that a scene is more than getting to know each other or rehashing events of the past. Something new and important must happen in each scene. Use these questions to help write quality scenes.

Scenes provide action, insight, unanswered questions, and foreshadowing of coming events or situations. Each scene is pointed toward achieving a goal through the eyes and emotions of one character. This means one point of view (POV).

A scene provides conflict. Again, this is not an argument but opposing ideas or beliefs, or conflicting goals. The conflict should move the story forward in someway. Think of a staircase with the prize at the top. Each step upward draws the character closer to the prize, in this case his or her goal. Each step then has a purpose. And remember that sometimes the opposition comes from within one character. Moving in one direction opposes another need or goal that the character finds important. Falling in love means opening up about past problems. Resolving an issue with a sibling means another sibling will be angry. These are situations that happen in real life.

Swain also adds a disaster element to each scene. In my opinion, the author can use ether a disaster or a dilemma. The character is in a quandary when he faces two choices and must decide which way to go or which one to act upon. If he makes the wrong choice, he might face a disaster.

A sequel is another moment in time. It is often shorter than an action scene and usually will be shown from the POV of a different character. More than action, this scene focuses on reaction. It is more introspective, a time of reflection and contemplation. The character will weigh what has happened in a previous scene and relay his feelings about the decisions made or the problems encountered. Yes, other characters may be part of this scene and some of the reflection delivered as dialogue, but the dialogue tends to be more problem-solving than active.

Sequels do not always follow the an action scene. Your story may need actions scenes back to back, but times will come when the reader needs to look into the heart and mind of another character or you may realize the pacing is being rushed and you want to slow down the action. This is when a sequel scene serves a double purpose.

In a suspense, the sequel can be a time to review clues or develop a new plan. In a romance, it is a time to make decisions about how to approach the romance or it can be a quieter time to heighten the romance. In any genre, the sequel can be a time to weigh choices and to propose a plan or a new direction. In Christian fiction, it can be a time to work on a spiritual issue.

While the structure of a scene, according to Swain is goal, conflict and disaster, the structure for a sequel is: reaction, dilemma, and decision.

As you work with pacing, decide which type of scene—action scene or sequel will work best for your plot. All good writers know that solid action is over-kill, so use sequels as a time to pull back and breathe, then charge forward. As yourself, what will keep the readers wanting more? What will keep them on the edge of their seats wondering what will happen next? This creates tension, and that’s exactly what you want in fiction. Without tension, your story lacks emotion. So both conflict and tension are important.


Leave a comment
  1. Anonymous November 26, 2009 at 10:59 am #

    Your writing is a fine course for budding authors. It is rare to find so much good information on tension and conflict. Often skimmed over, the forward movement of the story can be stopped without author obligation to build moments of posibilities of character choice. Scence and sequel creates that moment.

  2. Gail Gaymer Martin November 26, 2009 at 11:15 am #

    Thanks, I’m happy you find it helpful. I agree with you. We often take the easy route when we’re under tight deadlines, but if we want to grow as writers, we need to focus in on one or two techniques and work them until they’re natural and then tackle a couple more. Each year I try to work on at least one specific technique. I’ve just turned in my 43rd novel and still want to grow as a writer. Other wise I become pond scum. . .and I don’t want to do that. LOL


Leave a Reply