How to use the scene-sequel cycle to steer your plot

There are times when your plot calls for things to go one way but your characters want to steer your plot another direction. Do you want to know how to steer your plot in the direction you have determined? And do it without making anything seemed forced?

When characters want to deviate from the plot

There are times in most storytellers writing experience when your characters are pulling in the wrong way. There are two ways to handle that.

  1. Go with the muse and blaze out a new plot.
  2. Sculpt your characters into the choice organically.

Without some way to steer your characters through the gear change, that leaves you only with characters that refuse to follow your plot. Let me show you how to fix that.

Use the scene-sequel cycle to steer your plot

how story scenes workJust to refresh your memory. These are the four steps of the cycle.

  1. Emotion
  2. Reasoning
  3. Anticipation
  4. Action

Now you find the point where things grind to a stop. The failure point where the characters feel like they should be going one way but the plot calls for them to go another.

The problem is that you thinking of the current character’s default “in character” direction. The thing that you would expect the character to do.

However, we can put your character through the twister and leave them on the right path and either changed or deeply conflicted. Either way that is going to make for a better story.

Step one is we skip to the action you need them to take.

Let’s start there.

The action

This is the point that you want to get your character to. The action that does not fit with your current understanding of where the character is at. Now we ask the question – what could the character anticipate that would make the action seem like the best possible move?

The anticipation

Now you have a feeling for the anticipation that could lead to the action your plot calls for. Now we ask the next question. We are asking about your character’s reasoning, logic, puzzle solving, realisation about the world, etc.. What sort of reasoning could lead to that anticipation?

The reasoning

The reasoning is where the cold facts of the situation can be explored. The character can make some deductions. It is quite possible that you will go back and refine your anticipation as you understand the reasoning. That’s all part of the process. The character can also make assumptions and leap to conclusions that seem logical but might not be all that correct. Remember we’re working backwards and their reasoning is coloured by their emotions.

The emotions

Now we are ready to set things up. By colouring the whole reason-anticipation-action chain with emotions. Emotional thinking is not always clear-headed. It is not always calm. Fear makes anticipation loom larger. Panic makes our logic weaker. Love blinds us to the less rose-tinted view of things. Each emotion colours the characters thinking differently.

The failure

If you are fortunate you can craft an emotional response that leads to reasoning, then anticipation that sets your character down an unexpected path. However sometimes the emotional colour you have picked out does not fit the failure it is in response to. By failure we, of course, mean that obstacle that causes the character to fail to reach whatever goal they are seeking after.

Fortunately, you now know the exact emotional tone you are aiming for. All you have to do is rework that last scene so that punch-to-the-gut moment lines up with the emotion your character is going to feel.

Congratulations on your unexpected twist

What you now have is an unexpected minor twist. Your character is going to do something no one expected and the readers should not have seen coming. And yet your readers will find the new direction entirely plausible and “in character” no matter how far outside of the expected character profile you just took them.

For your character, this is almost certainly a defining moment. They will be changed by it. That, right there, is some good storytelling.

Congratulations on making it happen, writer.

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