Yes, But: Complicating Scenes

You have to consult a patient at a mental institution to locate the MacGuffin. Time is ticking, and there is no way for you to seek it out yourself. Can you get the patient to tell you the location of the MacGuffin?

You travel to this institution. It’s Alcatrazic in nature. Miles from the mainland, surrounded by marsh, with only one thin road passing through a guardhouse. Getting in involved lying to the guards. After some weaseling, you are set alone in the room with the patient.

Problem is, he still blames you for getting him sent to the institution. Yet, you need your help. You beg. And then he says: Yes, not only I recognize the MacGuffin, but I can also lead you to it.

But, I need you to break me out if you want to know where is it.

The whole way home, you debate about whatever to break him out or not. Time is ticking though, so you have no choice but to ride through the marsh.

This exact situation happened in Katy Reichs’ SEIZURE.

What is "Yes, But"?

The reason I presented it in 2nd person because it contains spoilers for book one, VIRALS. But the point still stands. The phrase “Yes, but” is a powerful phrase.

I borrowed this straight from SCENE AND STRUCTURE by Jack Beckham. Basically, there are four ways to resolve the objective of a scene:

  • Yes: this is how the climax is usually resolved.
  • No: a new course of action has to be taken.
  • No and furthermore: a new course of action has to be taken and with new complications.
  • Yes, but: the objective is resolved, but with some complications.

No to "No"

SCENE AND STRUCTURE recommended using “no” a lot. However, there are so many times you can say “no” until it looks like the protagonist is getting nowhere. In most cases, “yes” either means the story or over, or it’s a drop in momentum. “No and furthermore” has the risk of killing the story outright.

So I say “yes, but” is one of the better ways to resolve the scene. Not the only way, but it’s a good way to keep the plot story while raising the stakes. In the long-run, those “buts” may turn a “yes” to a “no” or even a “no, and furthermore”. This might even affect the ending.


For example (from my own work): Will Bryan find where Finn is going? Yes, Bryan finds out, but he is attacked by a spirit bear.

Or: Will Bryan keep Jeb safe from the Vexation’s attacks? Yes, Jeb is unharmed, but he escapes with the knowledge of the Manifestation.

Will Bryan prevent Finn from dying? Yes, Finn's still alive, but everything else pretty much went to hell for everyone who isn't the antagonist.

It's easy to write these kinds of situations without intending to, but if you're ever stuck with ending a scene, considering putting a twist on the conclusion.

YOUR TURN: Are there any cases of yes, but in your own story?