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|
|objective:||must figure out a way to stop the demon.|
|Can Giles and Buffy defeat||Question|
|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|
|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.