Act One, Part Two: Scene Sequence: Bringing the Team Together

So the first part of Act One is two parallel scenes: Nita vs. Button and Nick vs Vinnie. Or, if you will, two determined drunk people against two determined sober people. In the first scene, Nita wins because she convinces Button it’s important to get out of the car and investigate. In the second scene, Nick wins because he terrorizes Vinnie into giving him information. And both winners want the same thing: To find out what’s going wrong on the island and get the person who ordered Joey’s death. The scenes are parallel, but they’re not identical.

The key to parallel scenes is to make them enough alike that they feel as if they belong together, that they’re part of a whole, but keep them different enough that people don’t feel as though they’re reading the same scene with different people. Then having introduced two powerful (hey, they won) protagonists, it’s time to bring them together while developing the plot. In this case, the plot is complex enough that introducing their relationship is going to take more than one scene. In fact, it’s going to take a scene sequence.

A scene sequence is a set of scenes defined by an opening and closing that are a unified whole, linked by a conflict and goal that shift slightly because the PoV character shifts. Scenes Three through Six of Nita can be summed up by “Nita enters a bar” and “Nita leaves a bar.” But they can also be described as “Nita enters the bar to find out what happened to Joey, meets an extremely suspicious character, and interrogates him, confirming her suspicions that there’s something wrong there.” The scenes shift back and forth between Nita and Nick, but Nita is always the focal character.

The key to handling those shifts is they have to happen organically, not just because you want another charater’s PoV. In this sequence, we start in Nita’s PoV–it’s her sequence–then shift to Nick when he gets a phone call and leaves the group. If he stayed with the group, it would be an awkward shift, but because he takes the phone and moves into another part of the bar, there’s enough of a break in setting that it justifies the shift. That is, scenes shift because of a change of time or place; that how readers are trained to interpret white space. Nick’s scene is over when he hangs up the phone and moves back to Nita because he sees her doing something he wants to stop and hangs up to join her again; when he hangs up on Belia, his antagonist, that conflict is over and the scene is over. The sequence then shifts back to Nita and stays with her as Nick joins them and only ends when Nita passes out, effectively ending her PoV. The scene then has to shift to Nick, who keeps the PoV until Nita walks out of the bar, ending their conflict and the scene sequence. It’s tempting to just shift to a PoV character whenever you want the other person’s PoV, but to keep the sequence coherent, there has to be some reason for the shift, something that ends the previous scene and requires white space and a new scene without breaking the flow of the scene sequence:

Transition: Nita enters the bar in the last lines of the previous scene.
3. Nita vs. Vinnie: Nita tries to find out what’s going on, aware of Nick but dismissing him to get to Vinnie while he’s drunk and vulnerable, just as Nick is merely curious about her in the beginning. As the scene progresses, they become aware of each other as out-of-the-normal, and their focuses shift.
Transition: The phone rings and Nick physically moves away to talk to Belial.
4. Nick vs. Belia: Nick gives Belia orders while watching Nita, and including orders to investigate her. His PoV but the focus is on Nita.
Transition: He sees Rab join Nita and hangs up to go back to them before Rab does something horrible.
5. Nita vs. Nick: She talks to Rab first, but she’s asking about Nick, investigating him now, so when he joins them, she interrogates him directly.
Transition: Nita passes out and takes her PoV with her.
6. Nick vs. Nita: She’s out for the first part of this but he’s still focused on her, trying to figure out what happened, ordering the boys to investigate; then she comes around again. His PoV, but the focus is on her.
Transition: Nita leaves and the scene sequence ends.

So each scene has a protagonist, antagonist, conflict, and arc, but so does the sequence: Nita’s investigating, Nick’s stonewalling, they’re both suspicious of each other and struggling with each other, so that all four scenes combine into that one struggle that begins when Nita enters the bar and ends when she walks out. That’s what makes a scene sequence: Each scene is complete on its own, but the sequence is also a complete narrative arc. Just like scenes are mini-stories, so are scene sequences.

If you’ve forgotten those four scenes, here’s the truck draft rewrite.

29 thoughts on “Act One, Part Two: Scene Sequence: Bringing the Team Together

  1. Hello Jenny, I went over to your website and I got the August draft open. Enjoying all the drafts

    1. Thank you, Margaret, very much.

      For those wondering, I had asked for help in the blog post, Margaret gave it, and I deleted the help request.

  2. Off topic, but I thought of you immediately when I read this: A court’s decision in a Maine labor dispute hinged on the absence of an Oxford comma. The higher court overturned the lower court’s decision and changed the verdict.

      1. Why the hell they ever got rid of the Oxford comma is beyond me. It’s simple, it’s elegant, and it makes sense. But you know, English.

  3. I tried to go back to read the prior drafts of this scene (“page not found”) to compare how the “not real” was set up there as compared to here. It’s MUCH better here. I feel like all you did was a change a sentence (maybe added a sentence?) but I have a better understanding of his “not real” than the first draft’s reaction. […] “Mannequin” SO MUCH better. I truly understand Nita’s problem with this guy now rather than just guessing in what sense she may have meant “not real.”

    WAIT A MINUTE. Excuse me if we’ve already discussed this and I’m blanking, but. Nick = physical skeleton + projected body that is projected so strongly that it’s practically real (would fool another person who touched him). What’s the shirt?! Does he wear clothes? How does that work? How do you project a body into a shirt? I can understand his abilities fooling another person’s senses*, but a shirt has no senses. Either there is a physical object for it to lie upon, or there isn’t. Unless he’s actively filling it out with magic?
    Or is he projecting the shirt that he hands over to Mort? Does the shirt disappear later?
    […] The clothes are real and they hang on the skeleton? So he just projects them as looking as if they fit correctly?

    *I’m assuming he’s fooling their senses (as opposed to just magically creating a whole body) because Button sees him and Nita sees fake. Button, the full human’s senses, are hoodwinked. Nita, the ***TBR***, are not.

    THANK YOU for the “emails, you idiot?” bit.

    This is great.

    1. His facsimile is real to the touch, but he has to maintain it, burning energy constantly, which is why he gives off heat. The shirt is real because he can get those easily so why spend energy creating them?

  4. “There’s no there there” sounds so very Crusie by way of Alice in Wonderland.

    Whereas this:
    “How else was I supposed to know you’re all right if you don’t check in? A burning bush? Are you in a strip joint? I could have done that if you were in a strip joint. Ha.”
    …is going to have me laughing quietly to myself for days!

    1. “There’s no there there” is a quote from Gertrude Stein about Oakland, CA. I use it all the time. Gertrude was a genius.

        1. Well, two things.

          One was the original thing: Stein wanted to go back to her home town, to “go back there,” but when she went back it had all changed, there wasn’t any there there for her to go back to.

          The other that it’s come to mean is that there’s nothing there. It looks like there’s something of substance there, but when you look closer there’s no there there.

          For example, our current Presidential adminsitration. There are a lot of people on the President’s team,a nd they’re all out there talking up a storm, but when you look closely there’s no there. Watch any Spicer press conference, especially the one where he said that when Trump said “Obama tapped my phones in Trump Tower” he meant the Obama administration did surveillance on somebody in Trump Tower. Except that the President followed that up “bad guy” so he was clearly referring to Obama personally. Who snuck in and bugged his microwave, which was Conway’s suggestion.

          Nobody’s in charge in there. There’s no there there.

          Or for Nick, she can sense that he’s not really there. His mind is there, but there’s no body there. There’s no there there.

          1. No there there: There’s a marvelous 1984 book, Home to Nowhere by Kuntsler. He went home to find the Saratoga Springs hotel his town formed around had been replace by a Piggly Wiggly market and parking lot. I keep waiting for this to happen to my town and the Hotel Del. In the last mid-century, coulda happened. Now I think the place is too revered.

  5. What you’re saying about there needing to be a reason for a POV shift other than just wanting the other charter’s POV is definitely making me say Argh. Because it neatly explains an issue I’ve been struggling with. THANK YOU. But also: argh.

    Now, to read this truck draft in a hot bath, or to do the work I brought home with me that needs to be done by tomorrow morning? Hmmm…

  6. I didn’t understand what your issues were with the first several drafts because they all propelled me into the story, but rereading the truck draft I can finally see some of what you’ve been saying all along. Which I guess is a solid reason for me to be working with fabric and not words?

  7. Okay, this sentence I suspect really is missing a word.

    “Can I talk you for a minute,” Button said, poking her from behind again.

  8. “You are suspiciously unperforated for a shooting victim. So you are not real.”


    Am trying to imagine being four toddies to the wind and successfully enunciating “suspiciously unperforated.” I don’t think I could do it, but Nita is tougher than I am.

  9. I started bouncing up and down in my chair once Nita and Nick really started sparring. They’ve got great energy and I fully believe from their first interaction on that they’re a well-matched duo who will give each other hell and then go out and save the world. I also like how by their actions they both seem to be genuinely competent and, well, three dimensional.

    The whole bit with Nita’s reaction to the scupper, and Nick, Dag, and Rab’s reaction to Nita was PRICELESS. I want to use this to teach people what “Show, don’t tell” actually looks like. (Of course, I’ll have to stop snorting and scream laughing “Checkov’s bottle!” every time) I love everything about this novel, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

  10. I also love in the Chapter 1 part 1 draft how Nick keeps shutting everyone down by looking at them. It makes him feel much stronger and more purposeful.

  11. This is such a small and perhaps simply regional thing but, coming from a family of bee keepers, I couldn’t help but get thrown by the mention of Nita getting honey out of a fridge. Honey doesn’t need or want refrigeration. Unprocessed properly stored honey has essentially no shelf life. (There are reports of archeologists uncovering and eating ancient honey that was stored in Egyptian tombs.)
    All this is moot, of course, if Vinnie only has processed crap honey on hand… which may actually be more apropos in a Hell bar. 😉

  12. This is great.

    Just one question though – where does Mort go?

    He says (in effect) “I’ll be back” and then doesn’t appear again…


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