Sequences, Scenes & Beats Key to Transmedia Stories – Part 2

A sequence is a series of scenes – typically two to five –in which each scene has a greater impact than any previous scene (McKee, 1997, p. 38). The scenes within the sequence are usually connected by either unity of location or unity of time.

A potential point at which to break the story structure of a transmedia narrative in order to cross to another platform or media is the sequence. A sequence is a series of scenes that form a distinct narrative unit unified by either location or time. The sequences serve as “mini-movies”, each with their own compressed three-act structure. The sequence approach was developed in the late 1890s when films were rarely long than 10 to 15 minutes. While the sequence approach was initially developed to deal film’s technological limits, it now provides opportunities to engage the audience.

…sequencing helps writers create dynamic, dramatic engines that drive their stories forward. And unlike other popular approaches to screenwriting, the sequence method focuses on how the audience will experience the story and what the writer can do to make that story better. (Gulino, 2004)

A full-length feature film would have about eight sequences of 10 to 15 minutes in length. Typically each sequence is a short narrative that mirrors the structure of the whole story. Because story conflicts and issues are only partially resolved at the end of the sequence the attention of the audience continues to be engaged across the break from one sequence to the next. The sequence approach fits into the traditional three-act narrative structure. The first two sequences combine to form the film’s first act, the next four create the second act, and the final two sequences the third act. Each sequence’s resolution creates the situation which sets up the next sequence. A framework for a typical narrative based on the sequence approach is (Sarantinos, 2010):

  • Sequence 1: The first sequence often starts with a hook, a riddle, predicament, or questions used to stimulate audience curiosity. This builds up to the inciting incident, which destabilizes the protagonist’s world, thrusting him or her (often reluctantly) into action.
  • Sequence 2: The central dramatic question is set out in the second sequence, introducing the story’s theme, potential course of action, and source of tension. After the initial reluctance, the protagonist begins to take action to restore life’s balance. When this fails, the protagonist’s predicament intensifies. At the end of the second sequence a key event – the first turning point – occurs, signaling a marked change and the point of no return for the protagonist.
  • Sequence 3: As the protagonist tries buts fails to resolve the conflict, a pattern of increasing tension – the complication – is created. The protagonist ventures alone (or with one or two trusted confidantes) in a world that they don’t know and far from familiar ground. The protagonist must gain knowledge and understanding of the new world before being able to move forward.
  • Sequence 4: A reversal of fortune takes the protagonist further away from returning to normality than ever. This usually results in the first culmination (midpoint, climax of tension) catapulting to the second turning point. At this point it is clear what the protagonist must do to solve the problem but there are complications, making the path a treacherous one. The protagonist experiences repeated setbacks and eventually hits rock bottom (the fallen angel).
  • Sequence 5: The protagonist grapples with intensified conflict as the rules of play change and begins on a new quest at this point (the story within the story). At the end of this sequence it is appears to be clear whether a success or failure is imminent. A resolution occurs of the secondary but not primary conflict.
  • Sequence 6: At the end of this sequence the main dramatic question is often answered, the main tension is resolved as all other avenues are exhausted. The second culmination (second turning point) occurs and with it a profound reflective, meditative moment in the evolution of the main tension. The protagonist either resolves or reframes it.
  • Sequence 7: The apparent resolution previously is not the final conclusion. Unexpected developments occur, the stakes are raised, and the protagonist often changes objectives completely (the final hurdle) at a more frenetic pace.
  • Sequence 8: After a climactic moment, the equilibrium is restored and the protagonist can begin their new life in their new world. Usually a coda or epilogue ties off any loose ends and allows the protagonist to settle into a new world.

The sequence approach provides a story form that is more easily developed across multiple media than lower level scenes and beats. Because each sequence is a short narrative that mirrors the structure of the whole story, it may be appropriate to create different sequences with different media and have the users migrate across media at the transition from one sequence to another.

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