Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Scenes vs. Sequels - The Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher

I am trying to get my head wrapped around a writing technique that employs two kinds of scenes.  One is based on action with scenes have three parts: 1) a goal; 2) conflict; and 3) disaster.  The second kind is based on reaction.  Its three parts are: 1) emotional reaction; 2) dilemma; and 3) decision. 

The action scene with goal, conflict and a disaster seems to be taught widely by almost all of the books I've read on how to write a novel.  The idea of following the action scene with a scene that deals with the emotional reaction to the previous action, a period of review, logic and reason which leads to a choice of how to proceed, is not widely taught.

In 2010, I began following Randy Ingermanson’s blog Advanced Fiction Writing.  One of the unique writing techniques he described was the concept that there are two kinds of Scenes (with a capital “S”).  The first is a Scene where action is responsible for movement through the Scene.  The second is a Scene where reaction is responsible for movement through the scene.  In his blog he called these MRUs motivation-reaction units. 

Ingermanson gives credit to Dwight Swain credit for ‘inventing’ MRUs.  The concept is discussed at length in Techniques of a Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain, 1965.  I read the book and thought it was interesting but I didn’t have a clue how to implement the technique.

In 2012,  I began following the blog, Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors, by   K.M Weiland.  Ms. Weiland has recently been writing an excellent series of blog posts on this concept of action vs. reaction Scenes which she refers to as scenes (with a small c) and sequels.  It is an excellent series and I recommend it to all interested in learning more about the use of action scenes and reaction sequels. 

In one of her posts she mentioned the author, Jim Butcher, in connection with scenes and sequel.  I've gone back to try to find where she led me to Butcher, but I couldn't retrace my discovery.  She perked my interest in Jim Butcher, who was then unknown to me.  

I did some Googling and found that he was a New York Times Best Seller List author of fantasy novels.  I also discovered that back in 2006 he posted to a blog, Jims Livejournal useful instruction on scenes and sequels.  He really makes the technique seem simple and easy to do.  He said that that is the way he has written every novel he has written.  A scene followed by a sequel.

Butcher writes in Jims Livejournal:
Sequels are what happens as an aftermath to a scene. They do several specific things:

1) Allow a character to react emotionally to a scene's outcome.
2) Allow a character to review facts and work through the logical options of his situation.
3) They allow a character to ponder probable outcomes to various choices.
4) They allow a character to make a CHOICE--IE, to set themselves a new GOAL for the next SCENE.

Do you see how neat that is? Do you see how simply that works out? 

1) Scene--Denied!
2) Sequel--Damn it! Think about it! That's so crazy it just might work!--New Goal!
3) Next Scene!

Repeat until end of book.

See what I mean? Simple. And you can write a book EXACTLY that way. Scene-sequel-scene-sequel-scene-sequel all the way to your story climax. In fact, if you are a newbie, I RECOMMEND you write your book that way. You can always chop and cut the extra scenes (or sequels) out later, and you will have a solid bedrock structure for getting your book done.” 

Today, I finished reading Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher.  It is wonderful fantasy novel.  I thought if I read this book and study it I’ll be able to see how it is when you write a scene followed by a sequel.
The book is about 500 pages in length.  It’s a good story and I hated to put it down.  Maybe that’s why I couldn't see the lines of demarcation between scene and sequel.  In those 500 pages there was only one sequence that I could point to and say this is the scene and this is the sequel.  It was seamless and it was wonderful.

Now, I’m torn between putting my analytical hat on and tearing each chapter apart to find how he buried the sequels so naturally.  Or, buying the next book in the series and really enjoying myself. 

If you like fantasy, add Jim Butcher to your list of must read authors.

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