Sunday, November 21, 2010

Finding the Heart of Your Story

If you're feeling a little like your story is dead in the water, or lacking spark, consider these words of wisdom from my favorite Mr. Swain:

...there, in a nutshell, is the whole issue of the duality of story movement.  External events have no meaning in themselves, no matter how bland or violent they may be.  Their inclusion or exclusion per se is completely inconsequential.  They aid in story development only as [your character] has feelings about them and reacts to them.

Therefore, we must have change in both the external world, your focal character's state of affairs, and his internal world, his state of mind.  Neither can stand without the other.  Only as they interact, meshing like finely tooled gears, will your story roll forward.  ++

Do you hear what he's saying? 

The world could explode and the reader find it meaningless, if your character doesn't care, or you haven't made your reader care about the character.

Conversely, the raising of an eyebrow, or eye-contact held, could spur a depth of feeling or need to read on so long as your reader understands how that tiny stimulus will make your character feel - and deeply.

To find the heart of your story, don't focus on the events, but use the events (big or small) that demand your character feel and respond.  Then your reader will do the same.

QUESTION: What's your favorite point of action in a book you've read?  How did it make you feel? 

++ Swain, Dwight V.  Techniques of the Selling Writer, University of Oklahoma Press, 1973


  1. This is a great point, and you've reminded me how much I love the Swain book. I read it years ago when I couldn't quite absorb all the info, but now that you've reminded me about it, I've got to go find my copy, wherever I managed to pack it away. LOL