If you haven’t heard about scene and sequel, this isn’t the place to learn. Read Dwight Swain, Jack Bickham, and Randy Ingermanson (in that order).

I had a conversation with a young lady at my corner gas station. I recently loaned her a book, and was chatting her up about what she thought of it.

It’s a good book, in fact it is the book on writing I wish I would have read years ago. While I don’t practice it, the advice in story engineering by Larry Brooks helped me get some things in order.

So we were talking about scene and sequel, or proactive/reactive scenes. Here is the way it came out of me.

So I’m hungry, but I haven’t any money. My GOAL is to steal 2 bananas from the gas station.

CONFLICT arises when the clerk is standing in front of me. I now have to steal the bananas right in front of the clerk’s watchful eyes.

The SETBACK comes when I am caught stealing the bananas. Sure, I may have the bananas which solves the original goal, but the police are called, and now I’m either going to be arrested or have to fight my way out of there. Whatever I do at this point is my REACTION.

I run from the store, panting, scared to go to jail.

My DILEMMA is now I am wanted by the police. If I escaped with the bananas or not is irrelevant, I have bigger problems. So I have to make a DECISION, and that decision is the goal for my next scene, or it could be a major goal for the whole story.

I can actually let the police arrest me, that will solve the original goal. I will be fed in jail, but going to jail is a bigger problem than needing a couple of bananas. So now my goal is to stay out of jail, and a story is born

So that’s the point isn’t it. Make your setback something so that it creates a bigger problem than your character has in the first place. I call it compounding crisis. When your character’s problems stack upon each other you end up with multiple plot threads on which you can build your entire novel. I don’t call it compound conflict because it’s built on the dilemma. What is a dilemma? Crisis.

After stacking a few dilemmas, thus creating new goals, you can start giving your characters minor victories to push the story along.

Starving to death, while definitely a huge problem, isn’t in itself a catalyst for a great story. But without the notion of starving, I wouldn’t have tried stealing in the first place, and I would have no story.