Friday, October 10, 2008

Conflict: Part V: Using Scene and Sequel

Conflict is definitely an element of pacing, which is the flow of your story—think river with white water, snags, rocks, and calm pools. The speed at which you generate conflicts and resolve them influences the pacing of the story. Pacing keeps readers hooked to your storyline. It arouses interest and excitement for the readers along with their concern for the characters.

The knack of presenting conflicts, then, involves pacing—where and how you place them in your scenes and chapters. A scene is a unit of conflict. Without conflict there is no scene. If you find a scene in your novel that has no conflict, delete it. It serves no purpose except being filler to your story to increase word count, and readers and editors don’t have time or interest in fillers.

Your chapter is divided into scenes and sequels. These units serve a purpose and both further the stories conflict, but in a different way. A scene presents a conflict and a sequel, while serving as a transition to another scene, also dwells on conflict by forming strategies, mulling over consequences and presenting a quandaries for the character and thus for the reader.

As a unit of conflict the scene:
• shows struggles in characters’ lives
• moves the story forward by changing the characters’ situations, not always in a positive way
• provides reader interest
• ends in a disaster or presents the potential of a disaster
• provides a reader hook and leaves readers with questions

Without character struggles, you are writing a memoir instead of a novel You re relating the day in the life of someone who doesn’t have a problem in the world. No one reads memoirs unless they’re the life of someone very famous and then these people usually have problems. So crises, dilemmas, and conflicts must be included in each chapter. These problems and attempts to solve them moves the story forward toward a satisfying ending. Yet sometimes the changes aren’t always what the character wants which is a good technique to increase conflict. At the end of the scene, you will leave the character in a turmoil of some kind which can be a disastrous situation or a fearful concern that things aren’t going well. If not these, then leave the reader with questions. What will happen now? How will he solve this problem? What would I do in this situation? But make the problem worthy of concern.

A sequel is a unit of transition. While a scene is action and dialogue with problems to resolve, the sequel is a more thoughtful unit of the story. It’s the breather time when the reader can take a step back from the excitement and hear the calculations of the character as he or she attempts to find ways out of the conflict.

A sequel unit presents the character:
• time to think through the problems of the scene
• time to formulate new strategies
• time to chose between two undesirable actions–or poses a new dilemma or conflict.
Part of these scenes tend to be introspective, where the POV character struggles to deal with the action of the last scene or the issues that have been building along the way. In a romance, this is often the time when the hero and heroine have an opportunity to explore their growing relationship, each struggling to keep it at bay while one or both desire it to continue. In a suspense, it’s time to organize the clues, ponder possibilities, toss out ideas to resolve issues, and a time to make decisions of action. No matter what genre, the sequel poses a new problem because neither choices considered is a good one.

When the next scene arrives then, the decisions of the sequel or the introspective thoughts come to life. Here a new conflict is present or a past disaster deepens and grows, leaving the main character(s) with another piece to add to the puzzle of life. If your plot is not offering the readers these growing conflicts and deepening disasters, then rethink the plot. Use the techniques of the sagging middle found in the Plotting sections of this blog and ask yourself “what if” or add a new character who muddies the water. Do what you must to keep your story exciting and gripping.


AndThenWhat? said...

Thank you! I'm a novice writer, but I really want to share my ideas. I've started a couple of books, but hit a point where I knew it needed something, something I was overlooking. After numerous rewrites, it appears to be improving. I feel the more I learn from professionals, the more prepared I'll be to improve myself. Your points on scenes and sequels were very informative, and I greatly appreciate your "conflict" strategies.

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Hi Andthenwhat? I'm glad you're finding this blog helpful. Sharing what I've learned from reading, studying and writing my own novels is always a pleasure.

Blessings on your work.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much! Like many others I'm a novice writer and anxious to get real information from real authors that really works. I wrote my first novel 12 years ago and never did anything with it. I resurrected it a couple of months ago to submit it to a contest. Now I want to publish it and eventually have it written into a screenplay. Your tips here will help me make it the best it can be before going onto the next steps - thank you so much!

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Robin - You're so welcome. I'm pleased that you find the articles helpful. Remember that a first novel is rarely publishable. It takes many novels to learn how to write for publication. It's a skill but also tehcniques that can be learned. Hopefully you will see the complexity on this site. If you're going the self-published route, I think you'll be disappointed. You will sell few books to compare to the many thousands that a traditional publisher will sell and you will earn an income from your writing rather than paying for it to be published. It will be looked at with admiration rather than dismissed because anyone can have a novel published. A traditionally published novels is approved and deemed worthy by many editors and marketing people. I don't want to sound rough, but an skill takes much training and work.


AndThenWhat? said...

I'm a middle school teacher (that's what pays the bills), and a closet writer (what I'd love to pay the bills).
I know you've probably written this before, but would you share your first experiences with being published?
(I may be vicariously living through you, but I'd really love to know how the experience was for you.

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Hi - Sorry this is late but I've been under book deadline. Visit my Gail's Thoughts blog at date: October 29and I've answered your question about my career journey. It doesn't work on this blog - so I put it there.