Today I am going talk about contemplative scenes, or sequels as they are often called.
Jordan Rosenfeld has an excellent book called “Make a Scene” that talks about the different types of scenes—Action, Contemplative, Suspense, Dialogue, etc. She talks about the problems inherent in each scene (Contemplative tend to slow the plot, Action scenes can be confusing), and some tips and tricks for each type of scene.
You hear a lot of talk about what NOT to do during a scene. Unless you want to put your readers to sleep. You’re not supposed have a scene where the character sits in the kitchen and thinks, you’re not supposed to let your characters have coffee and talk, etc…the list goes on.
But this stuff happens in books all the time, and somehow, the book is not boring. How?
Because a sequel is not just a character soaking in the bathtub thinking about the new boy in school who happens to be a Yeti, and how their love would never work. Or a character sitting at the kitchen table, thinking about how awful it is now that the zombie apocalypse has occurred.
A sequel is:
*a scene that often follows action in the book. For example, a car accident. If you get hit by a car (the action) you are going to have a reaction to these events. Another way to look at a sequel is as a Reaction Scene. It’s my opinion that the heart of your book comes from these Reactions. How a character reacts and responses to the crap you throw at him is very revealing about his personal morals and motivation.
*A sequel can occasionally take place during an action scene. A great example is Star Wars: "Luke, I am your father." "NOOOOOOOOOOO!" That’s reaction, not action. And I suspect this Big Reveal is the entire reason for the scene’s place in the movie, not the cool lightsaber fight. Though the lightsaber fight doesn’t hurt.
*Another good use of a sequel is the How Are We Going to Get Out of This Mess? The classic scene of characters in the library talking. Sequels are a good way to show the character’s planning their next step, whether it’s how to get the handsome Yeti in school to notice them, or how they will survive the zombie apocalypse with only a Snickers bar left as food.
*Sequels are not an excuse to slow down the action, or a better word would be, tension of the book. Most writers fail a sequel where the character eats toast and thinks about their problems, not because there isn’t any explosions in the scene, but because there is no tension. You have a great book cooking, action is happening, things are moving, and then WAHM! A wall of boring happens.
The trick is to not let the tension drop during these scenes. If you can keep the tension going, you might even get away with the character taking a shower or doing some other boring task. I wouldn’t try this until you are REALLY confident though. I’ve seen it done well in books, and I’ve seen the scene fall flat on it’s face because there simply wasn’t enough tension to sustain the mundane task.
*A good sequel must continue to move the plot along. The character must make a decision, comes to grips with their crippling depression, realize they don’t want end up like their father, or something! Just like in a scene, the character must have changed from one state to another by the end of the sequel. They can go from scared of the zombies, to determined to kill them all. They could decide to change their evil ways and open up a bakery. They could realize they are madly in love with the Yeti boy and his copious amounts of hair, and decide to stop shaving as a sign of her affection.
*As you can see, the line between a Contemplative Scene, and a Sequel can be really blurry. Really blurry. Personally, I prefer to think of my sequels as Contemplative scenes. It helps me make sure they belong in the book, and gives me the piece of mind that I haven’t written a half scene that doesn’t belong in the book.
*When you’re writing a sequel, the main purpose or goal is the inner turmoil that leads to change. Luke being told that this evil man is his father is the entire point of that lightsaber scene. Notice how the action stops for a moment, while Darth Vader gives him the news. You don’t want external action to get in the way of the inner turmoil of your character, especially if this is occurring mid-action scene. Imagine what that reveal would have been like if Vader breathlessly intoned, “Oh” –duck—“By the way” –slash—“I am your father.”
This is why most sequel scenes have characters doing something boring. They don’t want to take away from the importance of the character’s reveal or decision or gut wrenching horror over what their life has become. So while you probably want to steer clear of super boring tasks like cleaning, washing the dishes, showering, etc, also make sure the physical action in your sequel isn’t too overbearing. Otherwise, it’s just unbelievable. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of reading an action scene where the character is having an emotional war with themselves while they are getting shot at, you’ll know what I am talking about. Hanging from a cliff isn’t a good time for the character to start pondering why they are attracted to abusive men.
*A good way to learn how to increase the tension in subtle ways is read a book that doesn’t have a lot of overt action in it. “The Lovely Bones” comes to mind…I was on the edge of my seat through the entire book, but there were barely any action-type scenes at all. No one got shot, no explosions, no zombies, and only one person died. But the entire book is fraught with tension. Other books that come to my mind are “She’s Come Undone”, “The Book of Ruth”, and “Midwives”. These books might not be your cup of tea, so try to find a book that doesn’t have an overly actiony plot that is. I am not saying read boring fiction that doesn’t seem to have a purpose, but a book where the tension is more subtle than A BOMB IS ABOUT TO EXPLODE! Figure out why you keep reading, and why the scene isn’t a snoozefest. If the scene IS a snoozefest, try to figure out what it’s not interesting to you.
*Finally, if you go through your conflict, specifically the organic conflict, you should have enough stuff going on in the character's life that the scene won't be boring just because they aren't getting shot at. Sequels are a great way to increase the stakes, or complicate the internal and external plot further.
So have some fun with your contemplative scene. It doesn’t have to be boring after all.