The following is an excerpt from Scenes and Sequels: How to Write Page-Turning Fiction by Mike Klaassen. 

What do the following novels have in common?

  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
  • One for the Money by Janet Evanovich
  • Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
  • American Assassin by Vince Flynn
  • Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  • The General's Daughter by Nelson DeMille
  • The Client by John Grisham
  • A Cry in the Night by Mary Higgins Clark
  • The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks
  • The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

These novels share many attributes: memorable characters, engaging plot, interesting setting, resonating theme, and appropriate style. Each is a "page turner" that grips you from the opening lines and commands your attention until the end.

A closer look also reveals that these books include both scenes and sequels. Full disclosure: I have never communicated with any of the authors listed above; I have no way of knowing whether they support the concept of writing with scenes and sequels or if they intentionally use them when they write. I just know that my analysis reveals that both scenes and sequels are an important part of the structure of the novels listed above. To me that raises the question of whether the rest of us are making optimal use of scenes and sequels in our own writing.

The value of scenes in fiction is widely accepted, and for good reason. Scenes propel the story forward, and they include the exciting, sexy, explosive parts of a story. You may be less familiar with the concept of sequels, so let's take a closer look.

Imagine you have written two great scenes that nicely move your story forward. In the first scene the focal character attempts to accomplish a short-term goal that he hopes will bring him closer to achieving his primary objective in the story. He encounters resistance that knocks him so far back that he is even farther from achieving his goal than when he started the scene. The second scene shows the character pursuing an entirely different course of action. This raises numerous questions:

  • How did the character react emotionally to the devastating setback of the previous scene—or is he an emotionless, cardboard character?
  • What was the character's thought process for determining his new course of action—or did he make a thoughtless snap decision?
  • Did the character consider alternative courses of action—or did he impulsively go with the first solution that came to mind?
  • Among several potential courses of action, did the character weigh the alternatives—or did he conveniently pick the one that the author needed to write the next scene?

You may be writing great scenes, but if they are not coupled where appropriate with sequels, you may be missing up to half of your storytelling firepower. If you are not intimately familiar with sequels, you may also lack sufficient understanding of scenes and how to unlock their full potential. This book provides you with the know-how needed to fully develop both scenes and sequels.

Who should read this book? If you are a beginning novelist, this book will help you build a foundation of practical knowledge that might otherwise take many years of self-study or trial and error to accumulate. If you are an experienced writer, the information in this book may provide you with information that helps you take your writing to new heights or sustains it in the face of ever-increasing competition.

Fiction writers tend to fall into one of three camps: (1) outliners, who plan their work in detail prior to writing, (2) free spirits, who like to jump in and see where inspiration and instinct lead, and (3) tweeners, those somewhere in between. Each of these styles has merit, and all three have drawbacks. Regardless of which style you use to create your first draft, you still face the challenge of polishing your manuscript into a seamless story. That's where a thorough understanding of scenes and sequels can really pay off: turning a mess into a work of art.

I'm the author of two young-adult novels, a historical novel set during the War of 1812, and a nonfiction book about the craft of writing fiction. I've been a student of the craft of writing fiction for many years, have read dozens of books on the subject, and have written many articles about writing fiction. My experience as a novelist and my study of the craft of writing fiction have given me a great appreciation for the value of writing both scenes and sequels.

If you're like me, sometimes you feel overwhelmed by the challenge of writing the kind of fiction that stands out in today's highly competitive market. I have over a hundred books about the craft of writing fiction in my library, and I've studied each one thoroughly. What I found was a huge amount of information, but much of it is incomplete, disorganized, and inconsistent. As I gained a better understanding of how the parts fit together, I found that writing about fiction helped clarify my thinking. I'm pleased to share what I have learned.

Of the many books I've studied, only two paid much attention to scenes and sequels: Techniques of a Selling Writer (1965) by Dwight V. Swain (1915-1992) and Scene and Structure (1993) by Jack M. Bickham (1930-1997). I encourage you to read both. Swain and Bickham provide a solid base from which to build an understanding of scenes and sequels, but much has been learned about fiction since each wrote his book. I used Swain and Bickham as a starting point, gathered concepts and terminology from others, and added to that body of work from my own research and observation.

My goal in writing this book is to present to you the most comprehensive and concise analysis of scenes and sequels available anywhere. That information puts you a giant step closer to bringing your writing to its full potential.

This book is like no other book about writing fiction. No matter how familiar you are with the concept of scenes, this book will provide you with a greater understanding of writing them. You will gain a deep understanding and appreciation for sequels and their potential. You will learn how to troubleshoot your manuscript, blasting through writer's block in the process. Lastly, you will see how to put all the pieces together to write page-turning fiction. 

This article is an excerpt from Scenes and Sequels: How to Write Page-Turning Fiction by Mike Klaassen. Copyright 2016. All rights reserved.

Why You Should Learn How to Write Scenes and Sequels