The note about structure posted near my laptop.

My last blog post talked about what a scene is and its structure according to Jack M. Bickham in his book Scene & Structure: How to construct fiction with scene-by-scene blow, logic and readability. Under Mr. Bickham’s definition, a scene is a segment of story action that can be watched in a movie or video. A scene is not a character thinking.

Yet, characters do have to react to the events of a scene—especially to the disaster, which is the ending of the scene where the character is worse off in terms of his goal than he was at the beginning. This reaction portion is labeled a sequel.

A scene is structured with a goal, conflict, and an ending disaster. A sequel has a structure, too. Mr. Bickham described it as “Just struck by a new, unanticipated but logical disaster, he (the viewpoint character) is plunged into a period of sheer emotion, followed sooner or later by a period of thought, which sooner or later results in the formation of a new, goal-oriented decision, which in turn results in some action toward the new goal just selected. Yes, this decision and action provide the goal for the next scene.

The emotional response to the disaster can be as long or quick as the author prefers, but the character needs to feel something to this setback to his plans. The thought is him thinking through his various options. He may discuss these with one or more other characters, so as to have dialogue moving the story’s pace. Eventually, he chooses one path and sets out to accomplish this task.

This alternating between scene and sequel is how Mr. Bickham believes a story is structured and pace controlled. His book offers techniques for handling unique situations within this structure. He also discusses moving the components of scene and sequel out of order, and if they are even all needed.

One example is when when the scene ending disaster requires an immediate new response such as shown on page 58. “As she saw Brad slump back in the pilot’s seat and the Cessna start to roll, (Emotion) Connie froze with terror. (Thought component skipped.) (Decision) All she could do was try to take over. (Action) She grasped the control yoke and . . .” Sequels don’t have to be long and full of analyses in order to anchor the reader with the viewpoint character.

After reading this book, I posted a small card next to my computer to remind me of what pieces I must be certain to include in my writing. It reads as follows:

  • Scene:
    Goal
    Conflict
    Disaster
    –Yes
    –No
    –Yes but
    –No and furthermore
  • Sequel:
    Emotion
    Thought/Analysis
    Decision
    Action

Maybe you will want to use a similar cheat sheet for your writing.