Swain Story Outline: Getting the Story Started

Here we are with part two of the Swain outline. Again, if you haven’t picked up this book, do so. It’s life changing as a writer. The outline here won’t make much sense unless you’ve read Swains chapter on outlining a story. In this section, we’ll discuss how to start off a story and the various ways you can open a story. That dreaded first sentence or first scene. They’re always rough. But Swain has some ideas to get you started.

If you missed the first segment, you can click back here.

Remember, everything is about The Big Picture, Desire vs. Danger. The Focal Character needs to struggle for a goal, even at the start.

 

  • Get the Story Started (The Beginning)
    • Where to open?
        1. Start with trouble
          1. Existing Situation
            1. This is the normal world (the state of affairs your focal character functions in)
          2. Enter Change
            1. Some new element makes the normal state of affairs different
            2. Something good can upset the normal world just as much as something bad
          3. Affected Character
            1. The affected character will most likely be the focal character
          4. Consequences
            1. The change must trigger continuing consequences (a chain reaction)
            2. The focal character must respond to the change, brining unanticipated results
            3. The consequence must be intolerable to the focal character (anything he/she finds too upsetting to ignore)
    • Where to start
          1. Start the story as close to the change as possible.

  • How to open
    • Uniqueness
          1. Call attention to the unique situation and make the reader wonder
            1. Examples
              1. She was the only artificial woman in the world. 
              2. He couldn’t sleep that night. 
              3. It was a different sort of town. 
              4. “It’s this week or never,” Susan said.
    • The Unanticipated 
          1. Something unanticipated to intrigue readers
            1. Examples
              1. The beautiful woman who has insectile eyes
              2. The book in Grandma’s parlor with ways to commit murder
              3. The hero starts by claiming that he/she is an idiot
    • Deviation from Routine 
          1. The focal character does something different on this day. Make your reader wonder why.
            1. Examples
              1. Instead of getting off the elevator at the normal floor, he/she gets off two floors higher and walks back down. 
              2. Instead of entering the house through the front door, the focal character goes around to the back
    • A Change About to Take Place
          1. Show an unusual event that anticipates change to come. The reader will wonder why.
            1. Examples
              1. The focal character’s lawyer calls
              2. A girl winks at a boy while sitting next to her boyfriend
              3. The sound of galloping hoofbeats coming closer and closer.
    • Inordinate Attention to the Commonplace
        1. Describe a common object with tremendous, painstaking detail. The reader will read on to find out why.
          1. A doorknob
          2. A grandmother’s gnarled hands
          3. The shabbiness of a run down house
          4. A little girl peering out from behind her bubble gum

 

The examples for different types of opening are great. For me, it’s like a pool of ideas to dive into.

Write on.

Tim Kane

Away in a Manger: A Christmas Tale of Terror

There is a place, so dominated by nativity scenes, that the you often feel like the tiny figurines are watching you. I am tormented by this idea. Irrational fear or no, it haunts me.

My best friend’s house, the one I visited all throughout childhood, is just such a place. Every other month of the year, it’s a typical suburban home. But come December, the nativities creep out. Figurines, pillows, throw blankets, ornaments, you name it. One year we counted over 100 in just one room. So you can imagine what this did to my fertile imagination. Yes, that’s right, straight to horror.

I wondered what would happen if they came to life one night. Would these ceramic figurines be benevolent, or out for blood? What followed was a delve into Christmas terror. And I wasn’t alone in my horrific machinations. The folks at Grinning Skull Press also share a penchant for the creepy at Xmas. I’m happy to say that “Away in a Manger” appears in the 2019 edition of Deathleham. The proceeds of this publication go to charity, so please download or purchase a copy to support the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

And my apologies to the wonderful family, so bedecked with nativities. You should know better than to feed my imagination.

Tim Kane

Swain Story Outline: The Killer Elevator Pitch

I’ve known about Dwight Swain’s work for forever. How could I not? Everywhere I turn I bump into the Goal, Conflict, Disaster model or Motivation-Reaction Units. The man knows how to explain good fiction. But when I hunkered down to finally read his book (Techniques of the Selling Writer) I was amazing no one has touted his outstanding story outline technique. All I ever see for story structure out there is the Joseph Campbell Hero’s Journey. Which is great in it’s own right. But more often than not, I write a story that doesn’t quite fit the Hero Journey model and then I’m left stranded.

So what I offer to present here is a multi-post look at how to outline your story (novel, short story, screenplay, whatever) using Swain’s sixth chapter, Beginning, Middle, and End. Note, this certainly doesn’t replace the reading the book. You really should pick it up. The way Swain delves into just why certain techniques work and don’t work is worth the purchase.

So here we go…

Swain must have been very aware of Hollywood as he wrote, because he starts with a technique to create the killer elevator pitch. You know, you have a minute while riding the elevator up and you want to pitch your book. Boom. Swain has it down to two sentences. A lot of this feeds off his Goal, Conflict, Disaster technique.

My goal here is to create an outline where I could plug in the detail of whatever story I’m working on and get the notes and ideas of Swain without having to dig back through the book each time. That being said, I’ll often use shorthand and reference ideas he puts forth in the chapter. So yeah, reading the book will help you a ton.

The Big Picture: Desire vs. Danger — The Focal Character’s attempt  to attain or (retain) something.

  1. Line Up the Story Elements
    1. Focal Character
      1. How does he/she fights back against the threatening danger?
    2. Situation
      1. What forces trouble the focal character?
    3. Objective
      1. What is the focal character’s goal or desire?
      2. Whether he/she succeeds or fails, the focal character must strive for this goal
    4. Opponent
      1. What or Who stands in the way of your focal character’s objective?
    5. Disaster
      1. What utterly awful thing will threaten your focal character at the climax?
    6. TWO SENTENCE essential story
      1. Sentence 1: A statement of character, situation, and objective.
        1. When humans grow to twelve-foot height, John Storm tries to find out why.
      2. Sentence 2: A question with the opponent and disaster.
        1. But can he defeat the traitor in high places who want to kill him in order to make the change appear to be the result of an extraterrestrial plot?
      3. Your reader reads for emotion, with no great desire to think.

The 5 steps he outlines are essential to writing your two-sentence elevator pitch. I gave one of his examples, but he goes on for several pages with more. I just wanted one as an example to guide me when I write.

I hope this helps.

Write on.

Tim Kane

Channeling Your Inner Tattoo Artist for Inktober

As this Inktober has progressed, I find myself leaning more and more toward American Traditional style for inking. For this week’s spread it’s most evident in the final day (Saturday).

For October 7th, I really wanted to create an evil tree (as if lifted from Snow White). I spent plenty of time searching up different gnarled trees and combined the best into Mr. Woodsy here.

I wanted to still keep things creepy (It is October after all), so I went for a bone-thin witch for the “Frail” theme of October 8th.

I’m still searching for just the right image to use for Pammy and wanted to try something a little more cute. The jury is out, but I love the pumpkin shading. This is for October 9th theme of “Swing.”

I had really wanted to do a tessellation for the theme of “Pattern” on October 10th, but after an hour fiddling with cut paper, I cut bait and went with my daughter’s suggestion of Jason’s mask.

October 11th’s “Snow” theme was a rushed one (I’ve just started teaching second quarter and have been pooped). But I enjoyed shoving real severed eyeballs into the snowman.

For “Dragon” this is where I really started channeling my inner tattoo artist. I love how the brush pen creates bold lines. I can’t really shade (or use color) but the outline feels strong the way I needed it to be.

Onward and inkward.

Tim Kane

The Deadlock Between Survivor and Monster

My story, Deadlock, has just been published by Ripples in Space. I originally wrote this for a contest titled “Monsters in Space” but by the time I was ready to send it in, the window closed (I didn’t miss the deadline so much as they filled up early). Here was my dilemma, I needed to use a classic monster (vampire, zombie, mummy, etc) to chase some poor schleps in space. As I chewed this over in my mind, I kept circling back to Alien and how the Xenomorph terrorizes Ripley. Of course I don’t use a Xenomorph, but there is a classic Hollywood monster involved. I decided to pick a realistic space monster (no Jason in Space for me) because I thought I might need to send it out to other venues (which, in fact, I did).

The key to this story is the standoff, the deadlock, between the monster and the final girl. Neither can kill each other because… Well, that’s the twist, right. I can’t spoil that. But if you like classic monsters, and certainly if you dig Alien, check it out. (Scroll down the page and look for Tim Kane or Deadlock).

Tim Kane