Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sequels, a blog article by Jessica P. Morrell


Scenes are the bricks or building blocks of fiction. They’re based on conflict and change. Each scene moves the story forward (or sometimes backward). They happen in real time, blow-by-blow, often sizzle with excitement and contain twists and surprises, and readers lean in close, wondering how each scene will resolve.

Sequels are the transitions that happen after the scenes. Sequels are focused on the aftermath and ramifications of a scene. When especially intense scenes happen, especially if a scene ends in disaster, setback, or failure, characters need a chance to sort through their emotions and thoughts. Often what comes first in a sequel is the POV character’s raw feelings like anger or despair. As in real life, once the character calms down, he or she is able to more objectively understand what has happened. From this understanding the character reaches a decision or new goal.  Sequels are important for shaping characters and motivations.  Thus the structure for sequels are emotion, ruminating, decision or goal.

For example, a couple who just started dating go out for dinner, drink more than they planned to and end up in bed together. Or perhaps they confess too much, reveal too much.  What takes place during the dinner or in the bedroom is unplanned and a game changer. The next day comes tough realizations and decisions. Does one of them back off the relationship? Is one scared by the depths of his/her feelings? Do they realize that they’ve made a big mistake?  

Or a scene can take place at a funeral. Often while at a funeral  characters might feel numb, or overcome by grief, or are desperately struggling to keep it together.  Afterward, in the sequel a character or characters have an opportunity to sort through their emotions Will they feel regret, relief, or anger? What will these feelings lead to? If someone was murdered this could lead to revenge. If someone died too young, perhaps the mourner wants to take more risks in life so then boldly asserts him or herself. Which then leads to a new scene.

Not every scene needs a sequel, especially near the climax or in fast-paced genres like thrillers. Typically stories that feature a lot of emotional risk such as romances or coming-of-age stories will contain more sequels. While sequels often feature analysis of what just happened, it’s important that it’s just not a rerun of the past events. Somehow the sequel must also be externalized. This means the character cannot sit around weeping or thinking alone in a scene—put the sequel into action. The character can call a friend or start working furiously, struggling to brush away unwanted emotions. It’s also important that sequels don’t go on too long. If you’re story feels too slow, make sure if every sequel is needed or if they can be tightened.

Sequels can also be about the physical impact of the scene—perhaps your character needs to bind a wound or force her breathing and heart rate back to normal. Horror stories use sequels to milk the suspense and fright factor. The character can call a friend or realize she’s in danger and start packing, madly tossing clothes and items into a suitcase. A private investigator can call in for backup and strategizing on taking down the bad guy. 

Without sequels fiction is a series of actions wham bam zipping around. Thus sequels help pacing, space out the action, add pauses in the action. It also helps with the buildup and easing off of tension. Sequels are also a great place to slip in back story via thoughts or flashbacks. Remember too that as in real life, we come to know characters better when they fail and pick themselves up again. This picking up and dusting off occurs in sequels. 

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Jessica Page Morrell is surrounded by writers. She is the author of  Voices from the Street published by Gray Sunshine, Between the Lines: Master The Subtle Elements Of Fiction Writing published by Writer's Digest Books, and Writing Out the Storm, Collectors Press. Additionally in July 2008 Bullies, Bastards & Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys in Fiction was published by Writer's Digest Books; Dear Bad Writer, How to Avoid the Rejection Pile was published in 2009 by Tarcher-Penguin.