Scene and Sequel

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Scene and Sequel

Post by JustAnotherJen » September 3rd, 2011, 6:52 pm

Does anybody out there know if there's a book (or books) out there that focus on Scene and Sequel? I know the internet has a lot of information, but it all starts to sound the same after a while and I'm really interested in a much deeper look at the process. I've been looking around for a book and haven't found anything. So I'm hoping someone here knows about something...

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Re: Scene and Sequel

Post by polymath » September 3rd, 2011, 7:25 pm

Jack Miles Bickham Elements of Fiction Writing: Scene and Structure, past professor Herbert School of Journalism, University of Oklahoma.

Dwight Vreeland Swain Techniques of the Selling Writer, past professor Professional Writing Program, University of Oklahoma.

Bickham and Swain, colleagues, are the progenitors of the Scene and Sequel writing method. Bickham started it. Swain picked up the ball. Nancy Kress, author of several writing books, follower of Bickham and Swain, elaborates on Scene and Sequel.

Personally, I don't care much beyond the slimmest of interest for any of their theories. Scene is a dramatic unit; sequel is the aftermath scene of the parent scene, or motivation-reaction units for cause-effect causation, are the bases of the theories. Too confusing distinguishing types of scenes into Scene scene and Sequel aftemath scene. And like any structural formula, rigid adherence is not advisable. C.J. Cherryh, follow no rule off a cliff.

Frankly, Bickham, Swain, and Kress' published creative works tend to follow the method so closely it's apparent. Not good from seeing the man behind the curtain. The artificiality of the construct tends to disrupt a participation mystique and jeapordize willing suspension of disbelief. But Scene and Sequel is a topic to visit, if for no other reason than to explore poetics how-tos of causal structure.
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Re: Scene and Sequel

Post by yaoguai » September 10th, 2011, 6:09 pm

I'm a big fan of Jim Butcher. One day I was talking with a friend. I told him, "There are guys like you and me, who have to learn the mechanics of storytelling. And then there are just born storytellers, like Jim Butcher."

There were two reasons I considered Jim Butcher a "born storyteller." First, he'd written the first novel in the Dresden Files when he was still in college, at the age of 22, and it's an accomplished, fast-paced, fun book, simply a pleasure to read. Second, he'd started his second series as a kind of dare; a friend told him that there are only two things he really hates to read about, and those are Roman legions and Pokemon. So Butcher decided to create an entire fantasy series based on Roman legions and Pokemon.

It was on the basis of these things -- the prodigious beginning, and the willingness to take random elements as the basis for an ambitious fiction project and turn out something excellent -- that I called Butcher a born storyteller.

I was completely wrong, of course.

Later I found Butcher's blog. On it, he details the methods he uses to construct his stories. He follows scene and sequel. In college he studied under Jack Bickham's proteges, and he swears by their techniques.

So I've been studying scene and sequel for some time now. It's how I found this thread -- I subscribe to a google alert for the phrase. Polymath has most of it right, though I hadn't heard Nancy Kress was affiliated. And I think in general writing teachers shouldn't be judged on their creative work, but on their students' creative work.

Scene and sequel, in and of itself, I find vastly more intelligent than the oft-repeated catchphrase, "Show, don't tell." Imagine reading a novel in the first person. In this novel, the narrator shows us everything, tells us nothing; if he dislikes another character, he never comes out and says "I don't like her." Only his actions show us his feelings.

In that hypothetical book, the show-don't-tell rule is strictly observed, and the speaker's voice is as distant and detached as humanly possible. It's in the first person, and the narrator won't tell us anything. Imagine sitting with a woman and listening to her tell a story about something that happened to her; how long would it take for you to notice that she doesn't include any of her feelings or responses? If she shows and doesn't tell, you're likely to conclude there's something psychologically amiss with her, within I'd guess ten minutes.

The scene-and-sequel structure gives a method to show at certain times, and tell at others. This is especially nice when well-meaning oafs at your local writing group try to apply the show-don't-tell rule at all times.

Polymath also mentioned motivation-reaction units, which, despite the cumbersome jargon, has helped me address another common blunder. Among amateur writers I often see phrases like "I jumped when I saw the ghost." That reverses the order of events, places the effect before the cause. By itself it doesn't look so bad, but imagine a paragraph: "I turned when I heard a noise. I jumped when I saw the ghost. I gasped when it reached for me. The ghost howled behind my back after I turned and ran away." The order of events is all cockamamie there. Let's arrange the events sequentially -- you hear a noise, you turn around, you see the ghost, you jump in surprise, the ghost reaches out, you gasp, you turn and run, the ghost howls. But the events in that cockamamie paragraph show up 2,1,4,3,6,5. A reader's mind is forced to reassemble this simple scenario as if they were watching Memento.

The scene-and-sequel theory is based on the idea, essentially, that during a scene, events should be written in a way that makes them as vivid as possible, so that a reader experiences the story as if it were taking place in real time. It's amazing how many amateur writers don't understand this, and it's also amazing how hard it is to follow. It's so much easier just to say, "He broke the glass and climbed through the window," than to remember to specify how he broke the window -- foot or fist or brick, etc. -- the sound of the glass breaking, the play of light and reflection, the patterns of cracks and breakage, the size of the shards, where the shards went, etc. Not to bog the forward motion of the story down in description, either, but just enough to create that vicarious sensation of having-lived-through a story, rather than simply witnessed it.

I'm fairly new to these ideas, but I have to say I find them profound. Particularly the ideas about creating reader empathy through effective use of sequel.

As for the OP's question, Polymath's two suggestions are fab. I might recommend you start with another book of Bickham's, _Writing Novels That Sell_, which is a more general, less jargon-laden introduction to the ideas.

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