Scene and Sequel


Written on Friday, November 20, 2009 by haleigh

In my previous post, I talked about every scene having a goal and a subsequent conflict in your protagonist achieving that goal. That's true--except for the "reaction" scene, or the sequel. Dwight Swain, in his amazing book, Techniques of a Selling Writer, introduces the idea of a sequel to a scene, a time for the characters to react, face their new delimna, and decide how to act. Their decision to act inherently propells forward another scene, following by another sequel...etc.

In the sequel scenes, then, there isn't a need for a particular conflict for the protagonist character. Instead, the decision they make about the new obstacle they face creates the next conflict they will face.

So while sequel scenes don't protray a conflict, they set up the next conflict, and they can also frame the next conflict and connect it back to your overall story/core conflict.

For more info on Scene and Sequel, check out Dwight Swain's book or this site.

Scene conflicts vs. Story conflicts


Written on Tuesday, November 17, 2009 by haleigh

There are a myriad of different conflicts going on in a story at any given time. Most of my thinking is about core conflicts, or those conflicts that sustain your entire plot. He's a chef, she's a restaurant critics. Conflict in a romance plot. He's a cop, the villian is a serial killer determined to toy with the cop. Conflict in a thriller. These big conflicts are based on your characters goals and needs.

But as I was reading Jenny Crusie's blog this weekend, I was reminded of the importance of scene conflicts as well.

At a smaller level, each scene should portray a conflict. This is what creates pace and tension. In every scene, a character has a goal, and they either achieve that goal or are somehow obstructed.

Take thrillers for example. The DaVinci Code, despite its flaws, has phenomonal pacing. It's a book you can't set down. In every scene, something is at stake. The character has a goal, and in almost every scene, that goal was obstructed. Which (and here's where pacing happens) left the reader wondering how they would ever acheive that goal.

On Jenny's blog (an amazing resource, by the way), she broke down a scene into its base conflict to see where she'd gone wrong. This is a great exercise during revisions, when you know something is off with a scene.

1. Who is the protagonist? Not of the novel, but of this particular scene. Who has something at stake? Who's POV are we in? (hint: the person with the most at stake should usually be your POV character for the scene)

2. What is their goal? What do they want to achieve? This often isn't going to be a huge goal. Sometimes it's a simple as they want to order take out for dinner. Sometimes they want to prove something to another character. But there has to be something at stake. Some reason for the scene.

3. Who is their antagonist? Again, it may not be the same antagonist for the novel. But someone is blocking their goal. A scene where a character is hungry and so orders take out for dinner isn't all that interesting. Who is standing in the way of your POV character achieving their goal? 

3. Do they achieve their goal? What is going to raise tension? What is going to make the reader flip the next page?

Check out Jenny's blog post for a wonderful break down of exactly how she used this to completely revise a scene.

Goals in Conflict


Written on Sunday, November 15, 2009 by haleigh

Debra Dixon is perhaps best well-known for her book, Goals, Motivation and Conflict. Each character has all three: something they want, a reason for wanting it, and an obstacle to getting it.

While Dixon uses conflict to refer only to the obstacles, the whole GMC concept refers to the overall conflict of the novel. In every conflict between characters (i.e., in every plot), there is a goal. Your protagonist wants something, and your antagonist has his own goals.

In conflict theory, the goals, those things we fight over, are divided into three groups: interests, values, and needs. Interests are tangible things, and the things we make clear we want (I want a raise; I want custody in the divorce). Values are beliefs held over right and wrong or ethics which lead to conflicts (the abortion debate, Republicans vs. Democrats). Needs are core, non-negotiable needs, such as survival needs (food, water, shelter), and basic psychological needs (acceptance, love).

In fiction, the conflicts must be intense enough to sustain the entire plot. Just from looking at the three types of goals, it's obvious that conflicts over needs are more intense than conflicts over interests. People generally do not compromise over what they need to survive, or what they believe to be right and wrong. They will compromise on interests.

When developing a conflict for your project, look for conflicts that combine all three: interests, values, and needs. These conflicts become difficult to solve, giving you more room for charactrization and plot development.