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

How to Make Every Inktober Post Creepy

This is my first year charging through the categories of Inktober. If you’ve never tried this, the gist is, you compose a drawing, always in ink, around some prompt. Yet the prompts sometimes seem a little broad, and, let’s face it, not always creepy. I’m looking at you, Husky.

Image result for inktober prompt

This is October, after all. Strange and creepy are in the air. So my goal was to craft something creepy from each post. Now mind you, I missed day one (didn’t even know about this event). So my drawing pick up on day two.

For “Mindless” I just wanted to draw a skeleton. It doesn’t really match the prompt, but you could say he’s mindless in the way he dances (a stretch, I know).

For “Bait” I wanted the classic “don’t put your hand in there” candy scenario. In this case, the candy is the bait and the child is the prey.

I’ll admit, I didn’t adhere to the prompt on “Freeze.” In fact, I went the opposite direction. I so wanted to draw a cup of coffee. But I made up with two posts for “Build”.

For the Frankenstein, I had just secured a brush pen and wanted to try it out (thus the more obvious “Build” link). But for the cookie jar, I wondered what creepy things a kid could stack to get to the jar (and yes, he got the cookie). It’s all about thinking… what could I do to make this more creepy.

Every other”Husky” I saw all involved dogs. Which is fine. But there’s also another meaning to husky, as in thick bodied. (I am also a word nerd). So I thought of this phrase: Sometimes you need to zip up a husky outer layer to keep the chill from your bones” and voila, a creepy post for the word husky.

Here’s hoping I can keep up the weirdness for the remaining posts.

Tim Kane

New Stories Published (or soon to be)

I’m very excited to announce that three new stories will see publication. The first, “Pardon Me, but I Believe the World is About to End” is already live over at Drunk Gekko. This was inspired by reading Terry Pratchett and the recent Catherynne M. Valente novel, Space Opera. Its a bit absurd and not my typical style. It involves the end of the world and fig newtons. In that order. Click over to read it now.

I have a Xmas story coming out with Deathlehem around, well, Christmas. “Away in a Manger” deals with a house filled with nativity scenes that come to life to attack their inhabitants. (See, this is more my style). I wrote this story about eight years ago, on Xmas Eve. So glad it will finally see publication (there are not a lot of horror related Xmas markets out there, but there should be).

Finally I am proud to publish “Maggots from Heaven”, a steampunk short horror in the vein of Hammer films and Victorian gothic. This story has seen so many revisions over the years and only the core science concepts remain intact. The question: what if you could capture a bit of the human soul. But instead of it being all glorious and majestic, your soul is simply little bits of ethereal maggots. Or to be more precise, the maggots come to nibble on your soul (the same way the real life fly larva feast on dead flesh). This will be printed in the anthology Fearrington Road (short stories in a Lovecraftian / Steam Punk / Diesel Punk vein).

Looking forward to posting more upcoming publications.

Tim Kane

 

Pammy Pestilence: Episode 1

 

I had the idea for a teen version of one of the Horseman of the Apocalypse a few years back, but no specific story ideas. I thought it might develop into a novel, but all I had was the notion of an Emotional girl who’s constantly alone because everything, and everybody, rots around her. Then, when I experimented with making a web comic, I thought she might fit here. I have a few more episodes in mind. She won’t be totally alone for long. She has her other Horseman and visits at least one of the local Deaths on a regular basis.