Episode 39

These 7 Components Will Set the Perfect Pace for Your Story

This Halloween episode breaks down the components of the scene and sequel structure to ensure that every scene you write is essential and moves the story and plot along at the right pace.

Music licensed from Storyblocks:

“More Jam Please” by Raighes Factory

“Mystery of a Haunted Memory” by Jon Presstone

“Trick or Treat” by MoodMode

“Halloween Haunted House” by MoodMode

“Halloween Stalker” by Jayson Wayne Brown

Rosemi Mederos:

If you have plot bunnies coming out of your plot holes, it’s time for a writing break.

Welcome to the Halloween edition of Writing Break. I did not grow up celebrating Halloween, and I’ve been trying to make up for it ever since I became an adult. Aside from our usual review of the news and writing tips, we will be visiting a haunted library.

The Writing Break cafe is open, so let’s get a treat and find a seat, and I’ll fill you in on what’s brewing in the news.

Customers who recently ordered pro-choice books from Bookshop.org instead received books by the fundamentalist Christian organization Focus on the Family. The orders were fulfilled by Ingram Content Group. At first, Bookshop.org told customers that the error was due to a “rogue Ingram employee”. However, Ingram’s official statement said otherwise, “An extensive internal investigation determined that the incident was completely unintentional.”

Do you buy that? Cause I sure don’t. Maybe they should have stuck with the rogue employee explanation.

The Frankfurt Book Fair took place last week. This is considered the world’s biggest annual publishing event due to the number of publishing companies present each year and the amount of international deals that take place. Rumor is that Penguin Press acquired Al Pacino’s still-untitled memoir for $5 million dollars. Those who have seen the manuscript say that it “has a literary bent and wrestles with big questions about art, life, and mortality.”

Wheeling and dealing aside global concerns were discussed, such as the protests in Iran and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Sales figures were also discussed, and the good news there is that all categories of Adult Fiction have seen growth this year.

Links to these articles can be found in the show notes of this episode and on writingbreak.com. Now, let’s take ourselves to the Overthinking Couch where I’m hoping you can teach me trick-or-treat etiquette.

As I said, I did not grow up celebrating Halloween. This means I do not know what to do when kids come knocking other than give them candy. Are you supposed to talk to them? Ask them questions about their costumes? Engage in some way? Or is the costume inquisition something adults like to do and kids hate? One year I awkwardly gave out candy and barely talked to the kids, and another year I created harmless but terrifying situations that made them run screaming from my door. I feel like there’s an art here I haven’t quite mastered. So, email me at podcast@writingbreak.com or reach out on Instagram at writingbreakpodcast and let me know the dos and donts of handing out Halloween candy or, better yet, share your favorite Halloween trick-or-treating memory with me. You know I can’t resist a good story.

And now, let’s continue chasing the fall foliage across the United States and meet a ghost.

vansville, Indiana. Opened in:

In 1937, at three o’clock in the morning, the library’s night janitor entered the basement to stoke the coals in the furnace. That’s when he saw an all-gray lady wearing a gray veil and gray shoes. The janitor was so surprised that he dropped his flashlight, and all he could do was watch as the image dissolved into shadows. He quit his job shortly after that.

Since then, several others have encountered the Grey Lady, including library employees, library patrons, lecturers, police officers, psychics, and paranormal investigators. The Grey Lady makes her appearance known by turning faucets on and off, leaving the smell of perfume behind, creating unexplained cold spots, making strange noises, moving books and furniture, and touching the hair and jewelry of the living.

Grey Lady was last sighted in:

Now that we’re here, let’s find a spooky book to read.

The Ghost of Normandy Road is the first in the Haunted Minds series by John Hennessey.

“An old house stands on Normandy Road, uncared for and uninhabited for years, until one day, believing an urban legend that no-one dares to live there, a young boy decides to cross its threshold. Yet the house is far from empty - within its walls, a terrible evil has been disturbed. It will take one brave soul three of the longest nights of his life to unlock its secrets, but will he live to tell the tale? Although told as a work of fiction, this tale really is based on a true story.”

Check the show notes for a link to The Ghost of Normandy Road, which is free on Kindle Unlimited, as is the rest of the Haunted Minds series by John Hennessey.

Now let’s find an outside bench where we can watch the falling leaves and discuss today’s writing tips.

You’ve mapped out your three-act novel, so it’s time to get into writing your scenes. First, remember that the plot is your protagonist's physical journey, and the story is your protagonist's emotional journey. I will be using that distinction in today’s tips, so check out episode 24 for more information on that.

Writing scenes requires a scene and sequel structure. What that means is that you have a scene wherein meaningful action and meaningful dialogue take place, thereby moving the plot along, and that scene is followed by a sequel where meaningful reactions take place, thereby moving the story along.

It’s called a scene and sequel structure rather than an action and reaction structure because not every moment of action or dialogue exchange necessarily has a reaction or analysis of what was just said. I’m sure you’ve read stories where the action went on for a bit before the characters stopped to think things over.

You control the pace of the story through the scene to sequel ratio. You could build up a scene so that there's more action involved before the sequel. You could also have a series of blunders that will lead to more thoughtfulness in the sequel.

The scene and sequel both have components.

The scene components are: goal, conflict, and disaster. If there is no goal, you don't need the scene. Understanding this will save you so much time and make your writing infinitely better, so I’ll say it again: if there is no goal, you do not need the scene. Once the goal of the scene is established, the characters are going to meet with conflict. How much conflict you create for them will set the pace and momentum of the plot. After that comes the setback that the character experiences in the attempt to accomplish the goal. This setback is known as the disaster. Note that not every disaster will fall upon the protagonist, as not every scene is about the protagonist.

Then you have the sequel. The sequel components are: emotion, thought, decision, and action.

By “emotion” I mean powerful emotion that immediately follows not being able to accomplish the goal of the scene. Then the character should think about what can be done next to accomplish the goal and pick the decision that makes the most sense and act upon it. And by “makes the most sense”, I mean what makes the most sense for that character. Whatever they decide to do should be in keeping with their personality and characteristics at that moment. This includes their flaws.

After a decision has been made, it is time to take action. This action could become the goal of the next scene.

Everything that occurs in the novel occurs within the scene and sequel, including setting descriptions, backstories, and so on.

When you’re writing, it might help to write one sentence describing each element: that is, goal, conflict, disaster, emotion, thought, decision, and action. One sentence for each. Then use that as a guideline for writing the scene and sequel. I know that’s a lot of information, and it might be confusing, so listen to it a few times and feel free to reach out to me with questions you might have about this, and I’ll do my best to address them in forthcoming episodes.

Next week we’re going to work on creating a setting. Until then, thanks for listening, and remember, you deserved this break.

If you would like us to visit your favorite independent bookstore, feature your favorite independent author (even if it’s you), or discuss something you’re overthinking about, please email me at podcast@writingbreak.com.

Thank you for making space in your mind for The Muse today.

Writing Break is hosted by America’s Editor and produced by Allon Media with technical direction by Gus Aviles. Visit us at writingbreak.com or contact us at podcast@writingbreak.com.

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Rosemi Mederos


Rosemi is the founder of America's Editor, a book editing company.