Dramatic Strategy III: Changing Things Around

If you follow the Dwight Swain/Jack Bickham school of thought regarding writing technique, then you know that the basic foundation of fiction plotting involves alternating scenes and sequels dovetailing together in a smooth progression of story.

However, once you’ve gotten the hang of writing scenes and sequels, you’ll find yourself confronted by its one big drawback:  predictability. Savvy writers, therefore, keep their readers guessing by mixing the order of these dramatic units.

How?

Step 1: Write your rough draft in scene/sequel/scene/sequel/scene/sequel pattern. Keep everything steady and on track from start to finish.

Step 2: In revision, once you’ve determined that your plot is solid and you’ve plugged any holes, then determine where the story seems to bog down a bit or where it becomes ho-hum. Look for extra-long sequels or scenes that end without a setback or set a weak hook. These danger points need jazzing up.

Step 3: Buy yourself two packs of 3 X 5 index cards in two different colors. Number and summarize each scene on one color of cards. Number and summarize each sequel on the other color. Pin them up on a wall or spread them across a long table. This will help distance you from your story so that you can think about it more objectively. Flag the danger spots with a marker or a Post-It.

Step 4: If you want to amp up the excitement at a certain section of the novel, then remove or compress the sequels between a pair of important scenes. Let your protagonist start to react, but the events of the story crowd in and the sequel is deferred. Doing this between two or three scenes will create what’s known as a SCENE CLUSTER. It carries the same effect as a BIG SCENE.

Step 5: When you defer sequels in order to keep the action exciting and intense, then know that you will need to write a long sequel that spans reaction to the whole scene cluster. John D. MacDonald is a master of this technique, and his Travis McGee novels are worth study.

Step 6: You can eliminate a weak scene by keeping the sequel that sets it up, then remove the scene and “jump” forward in the story’s action to a more exciting point. A simple paragraph of narrative summary can “fold back” to inform readers of what happened in the scene that didn’t play.

This sampling of tactics will keep your story less predictable and far more exciting to read. When you shift the dramatic pattern this way, you’re controlling reader response while providing maximum entertainment value.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Dramatic Strategy III: Changing Things Around

  1. I just found your blog and I have to tell you, this particular post is a golden writing lesson to keep around. I love Dwight Swain’s book and this is an interesting tidbit to add to his approach. Thank you for sharing.

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