moody

More with the procrastinating

Mr Pedia has me reading Dwight V. Swain's Techniques of the selling writer. Swain first published it in 1965; it contains advice about typewriter ribbons. It also contains advice about fiction-writing in simple declarative sentences. I've hopped through the book a little bit.

Swain breaks down stories into five elements:

character / situation / objective / opponent / disaster

He wants a two-sentence summary of your story that works in these five elements. First sentence is a statement, the setup. Second sentence is a yes/no question, the conflict.

Here's a Swain-ish summary of "The dark age":

situation: When a demon he summoned in his youth reappears and possesses his girlfriend, Statement
character: Rupert Giles
objective: must figure out a way to stop the demon.
Can Giles and Buffy defeat Question
opponent: Eyghon
disaster: without killing Jenny?


Hmm. Let's try a nice simple bit of hard SF, Larry Niven's "Neutron Star":

situation: When the Puppeteers blackmail him into recreating a doomed scientific mission, Statement
character: Beowulf Schaeffer
objective: must survive a close pass of a neutron star.
Can Bey figure out Question
opponent: what killed the Lassiters
disaster: before it kills him too?


Let's try a few more, because this is a fun exercise:

Lord Peter Wimsey (character) has become infatuated with mystery writer Harriet Vane (situation), and wishes to clear her name (objective) of the false accusation that she poisoned her ex-lover. Can Lord Peter identify the real murderer (opponent) before Miss Vane's retrial, conviction, and execution (disaster)?

Edwer Thissell (character), the government's envoy on Sirene, is struggling to fit in (objective), when his superiors inform him that escaped murderer Haxo Angmark has arrived (situation). Can he capture Angmark before his superiors' deadline expires (disaster), in the face of the native culture's enforced anonymity (opponent)?

Sandra Foster is attempting to research the causes of trends when incompetent office assistant Flip turns her life upside down. Can she rescue her relationships and her project from the chaos wrought by Flip before Management cuts her funding?

Yeah, it's the Hollywood logline, or the TV guide capsule summary! Feels cold-blooded to me. Not to mention relentlessly middlebrow. Like, where's the art, dude? Can we apply this to "The dead"? Or "The music school"? And just try fitting P&P into this mold. Aha! Great if you're writing for Hollywood, I guess. And perhaps best thought of as a writing tool, an aid to your own internal process, not as a tool for analyzing finished fiction.

And that's enough procrastination for the day.
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Yeah, after snarking about it, I realized it was perfect for fic summaries. And, to be honest, good for making sure I'm focused about what the conflict in my story really is.