Sunday, January 6, 2008

Sequel Neglected

I've noticed I have a fair few posts about scenes, but I've completely neglected sequels. I can't imagine why. Scene and sequel go together like ham and eggs. Pork and beans. Night and day. Well, you get the drift.

Sequels are important. Vital, in fact. I'll even go so far as to say that a well-written sequel is THE way to get readers to give a damn about your characters.

Basically, scenes are about conflict and events. Sequels are about processing those events. Sequels are the natural follow-up to a scene, so natural that even if you've never heard of the concept, you'll have written at least a few unconsciously.

But that's the road to mastery: the natural and unconscious are brought to the light, taken apart, closely examined and eventually refined until they are eventually unconscious again. Dancing, cooking, fighting or writing, this process is why amateurs look spastic and lost, intermediates look like they're trying and the best make it look seamless, easy and natural.

So on that road, let's turn to the sequel.

Your scenes are where your 'stuff' happens. Your sequels are where we see inside the character, where we buy in or shut down.

Sequel is where you account for *why* your character stays in the damn haunted house. And how they feel about taking down a skyscraper full of terrorists single-handed.

Handle your sequels wrong, and Elinor Dashwood may come off as a wimp. Scarlett O'Hara is just another coniving gold digger. Jack Reacher, John Rain and James Bond all become just so many violent murderers.

Handle them right, and you just may create characters who are memorable, powerful and immortal.

No pressure, right? :-)

After an exciting event, people react. The reaction may take place over years or the space of a single heartbeat, but it *will* take place in a reliable sequence:

1. Feelings
2. Thoughts
3. Options
4. Choice

When I was sixteen, a young man pulled a gun on me.

1. The sight of the weapon engendered an intense limbic reaction, which is a fncy way of saying a sudden and visceral sensation of 'Holy shit!'

2. Fast on the heels of the emotion of fear was thought: The gun was still in his waistband, it had a good couple of feet to travel before the barrel would point at me. Which thought led to...

3. Options. I could have tried to outrun a bullet. I could have stuck my hands up and relied on an armed asshole's mercy. I suppose I might have negotiated, but I honestly wasn't that on top of things back then. Instead, I made a different (4.) choice: I charged in and fought.

By the numbers, and all in the space it takes one fool to call another one a motherfucker.

About ten years later, a young woman I loved wanted an open relationship.

1. I felt hurt and jealous, oddly betrayed and even more inexplicably lustful.

2. I tried to rationally deny my jealousy. After all, she wanted to keep seeing me, and she sure didn't mind me seeing her friends. And her friends were, um, attractive as well. What was monogamy anyway but an antiquated social construct intended to gaurantee a father's loyalty to progeny definitely his own? Yeah, my thoughts were stupid...

3. I really did look at my options. Breaking up with her was tempting as hell. So was trying to make the open thing work, especially when she was breathing on my neck...

4. I made a choice. Later, I changed my mind and left town.

Depending on how the writer handled that material, I could be the hero or the villain. Hopefully, my subsequent actions would make sense.

The night she told me was a scene (and man, was that a scene!), the next few months were the sequel. Depending on how I'd try to write that story, the next scene might be the first night I was alone and she was with someone else, or the last morning we were together before I left town. It all depends on....


Scene and sequel are the beating heart of your story. Scene is the throttle, sequel the brake. And when it comes to controlling pace, sequel is the more powerful tool.

I'm running on too long, so I'll return to sequel tomorrow, this time with the focus on using it as a pacing tool...
OOps, one last thought: Unlike real life (I'm actually pretty happy with my decision to fight that kid), the choice your fictional character makes MUST make things worth. The phrase I use when I'm writing is 'Into the Lion's Mouth.' Your characters make things harder and more complicated until they're pressed so tight the story, well, climaxes.
That's kind of related to pacing, and I'll try to cover both tomorrow. Otherwise, I guess I'm in for a three-parter...


Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

I think sequels for the most part never live up to the first film. Writers, directors, whoever decides, try to add so much to make it bigger than the first film that by doing so, they lose something in the mix of it.

I will admit that even if I do not like the sequel, because I am a bit of a freak about movies, I will often buy it anyway. Sort of like having the next book of a writer I really enjoyed but may not his next book. It's a weird thing, I know.

Let me pose you this question, if I may.... Do you think they make sequels because the original needs to expand and bcome more... or.... do you think it is merely because the first film went on so well that audience by mere intrigue will go see it? Is this greed? Or stupidity? Or can we say its a smart move?

You tell me.

Soft love,

Steve Malley said...


Even in the same movie, there may be people involved who truly feel there's more story to be told and others who see little but the dollar signs.

One of these days, I want to write a little about how to do a successful 2nd in a series. Of course, the first two rules there are, 1. make the first one, and 2. the first one makes money.

And in the entertainment industry, *anything* that makes money is seen as a 'smart move'. Anything that loses money is 'stupidity'.

But I meant sequel in its older sense: the part that comes next, that which follows...

Lisa said...

I'm confused. When you're using the word sequel, are you using it interchangeably with the term sequence? I did once learn about sequences being a series of scenes, but have not thought about it in a while. Sorry if this has gone over my head!

Lana Gramlich said...

I got into Anne McCaffrey's pern novels years ago & I have to say, the farther she got into it, the lest I enjoyed it until I stopped reading, altogether. There's a place for sequels, yes, but they're definitely not going to please everyone.

Shauna Roberts said...

I've never fully understood the scene-sequel bit, particularly the function of the sequel other than to slow things down. Your post helped; I'm looking forward to tomorrow's discussion.

Charles Gramlich said...

Steve's not really talking about sequels in the sense of "Die Hard part III) but about how events (a scene) in a story or film is followed by a "sequel" where the character processes those events. I hope I'm not putting words in his mouth. Like, a movie opens with a scene in which a man's wife is killed in a drive by shooting. We see this shooting and will call this the "scene." Then the "sequel" shows the husband drinking, looking at his wife's picture and crying, and finally buying a gun. We get to see how the husband processes the events of the scene.

At least this is how I took it. I could be wrong. It's happened before.