Who’s familiar with Dwight Swain’s scene/sequel format?

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Henckel
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Who’s familiar with Dwight Swain’s scene/sequel format?

Postby Henckel » Sun Jan 15, 2017 9:34 pm

The part that confuses me is just how large these are? Depending on the website or blog I visit, I get a different answer. One website gave an example using the entire book format of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. Another site gives examples where scene sequel is used on a near paragraph level, and where the individual sentences are bulked out by the Motivation-Reaction Units (MRUs).

In my opinion, the MRUs don’t work as well if the larger scale scene sequels are defining the “whole story”. Am I right?

Also, should a scene sequel be used back to back in each chapter?

Do I need 1 scene to 1 sequel ratio?

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Re: Who’s familiar with Dwight Swain’s scene/sequel format?

Postby kentagions » Sun Jan 15, 2017 11:50 pm

Macro level
Scene/sequel: A method of ensuring that a whole scene is plotted. Scene - Goal, Conflict, Disaster. Followed by Sequel - Reaction, Dilemma, Decision. Which leads into the following scene. (One scene to one sequel - yes. Always back to back - yes, they flow into each other.)

Think of scene/sequel as a single unit for plotting a complete scene (whether that scene is two paragraphs or a chapter. Not an entire book.). Each scene must have all elements. Each sequel must have all elements. If they don't, the unit is not complete. If they can't have all elements, the scene probably doesn't work and should be changed or deleted.

Micro level
Motivation Reaction Unit: A method of writing by which external stimuli (Motivation) create internal and subjective responses (Reaction) in a character. (Example: The east drapes crumbled away and light blazed through the window (Motivation). Bob cowered behind the bed in horror (Reaction).) Reactions without motivations read like back to school what-I-did-last-summer essays.

[Instead of motivation/reaction, one might think stimulus/response.]

MRUs are sub-units of scene/sequels. Scene/sequels are sub-units of stories.

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Henckel
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Re: Who’s familiar with Dwight Swain’s scene/sequel format?

Postby Henckel » Mon Jan 16, 2017 4:34 pm

Thanks Kent. That’s helpful.

I tried retro fitting my most recent story to this format to see where the gaps are. Once I filled in those gaps (according to the scene sequel format) I really felt as if I had a stronger story.

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Re: Who’s familiar with Dwight Swain’s scene/sequel format?

Postby kentagions » Mon Jan 16, 2017 8:17 pm

Swain's book Techniques of the Selling Writer is one of the best books on writing fiction. His names for certain things like 'scene/sequel' and 'MRU' are unorthodox, but his ideas are perfectly valid.

As you've seen, adhering to his formula will strengthen one's prose. Quite a number of authorities refer to his methods by altered description if not by name and citation.

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Re: Who’s familiar with Dwight Swain’s scene/sequel format?

Postby Henckel » Tue Jan 17, 2017 3:31 pm

I ordered the book about a week ago. It should be here in the next few days (Post to NZ takes a while).

Another question, if you don't mind:

Should there only be one MRU cycle (Motivation, Feeling, Reflex, and Rational Action/speech) for each of the six Scene Sequels stages (Goal, Conflict, Disaster, Reaction, Dilemma, and Decision)?

I.e. Can I run three MRU cycles in the conflict stage of a Scene?

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Re: Who’s familiar with Dwight Swain’s scene/sequel format?

Postby kentagions » Tue Jan 17, 2017 9:41 pm

No to the first question, and Yes to the second. It is my understanding that each MRU encapsulates an external stimulus and the POV's reaction to it. Even small things within the environment will stimulate a realistic character and reveal more personality to the reader. These things need not be tied to the scene/sequel at hand (Meaning that they don't always have to move the plot.).

The MRU is a means of plotting, writing and editing complete motivation/reaction cycles from a character's POV. In structure, every reaction requires a motivation and every motivation requires a reaction. This gets down to minutiae in plotting and can make for a very long outline, but the method ensures that there is nothing superfluous written. In editing, the method ensures that nothing has been left out.

There must be at least one MRU for each phase of scene/sequel, because the plot of the story requires motivations and reactions. So there would be at least six MRUs per scene/sequel. Again, it is my understanding that there may be more MRUs per scene/sequel, but never fewer.

(For those reading the forum who might question the method, please try it instead. If critiques of your work include "Why did she do that?" or "This didn't make sense," it's almost guaranteed that something is amiss with motivation/reaction cycles.)

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Re: Who’s familiar with Dwight Swain’s scene/sequel format?

Postby Henckel » Wed Jan 18, 2017 2:35 am

Thanks for breaking it down for for me.

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Re: Who’s familiar with Dwight Swain’s scene/sequel format?

Postby tmaulhardt » Thu May 25, 2017 10:33 am

I love Dwight Swain's story structure and learned so much reading his book, but I did feel it was somewhat out of date. However a student of his incorporated his methods in her book "The Fantasy Fiction Formula." Let's see what was her name. . . I shall look it up. Deborah Chester. She cuts to the chase in several spots and her book is very readable. I highly recommend it.

And hi all! I haven't been on this forum for ages. Time to get back in here!
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Re: Who’s familiar with Dwight Swain’s scene/sequel format?

Postby jficke13 » Thu May 25, 2017 1:06 pm

tmaulhardt wrote:[...]a student of his incorporated his methods in her book "The Fantasy Fiction Formula." Let's see what was her name. . . I shall look it up. Deborah Chester. [...]


A student of hers, some cat who has sold a book or five, Jim Butcher, refers to her as his "sensei" and highly recommends "The Fantasy Fiction Formula." It's on my list of books to check out.
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Henckel
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Re: Who’s familiar with Dwight Swain’s scene/sequel format?

Postby Henckel » Thu Jun 01, 2017 5:00 pm

a student of his incorporated his methods in her book "The Fantasy Fiction Formula." Let's see what was her name. . . I shall look it up. Deborah Chester

I'm going to have to check that out! Thanks!

I've found great info on every page of Dwight Swain's book. But reading it is a challange. I feel like I'm listening to an old English professor from the 1960s. ...paiful.

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Re: Who’s familiar with Dwight Swain’s scene/sequel format?

Postby CreyGold » Sun Jun 04, 2017 7:59 am

Jim Butcher has a lot of writing advice posted to his livejournal. It includes information on scene and sequel as well as other useful tidbits. You can find it compiled here: http://blog.karenwoodward.org/2012/10/jim-butcher-on-writing.html. I hope this helps!

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C

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Re: Who’s familiar with Dwight Swain’s scene/sequel format?

Postby jficke13 » Fri Jul 07, 2017 6:36 am

I just finished Deborah Chester's "Fantasy Fiction Formula." It's really quite good if not quite revelatory. I feel as though she does a job of clearly articulating ideas I've heard in general (e.g. scene/sequel) as well as putting in more concrete terms things I've been doing instinctively.

It really helped me organize how to think about attacking prose on a very high level.

For example:

Looking at an outline I've been working on I realized that Chapters 1 and 2 are really one scene and should be consolidated. Chapter 3 was already a sequel, I just didn't know it yet. But once I realized that, I could organize it into a more compelling reaction to the events of Chapters 1-2.

That sort of perspective has been a great help to me.

I'd recommend checking it out.
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Re: Who’s familiar with Dwight Swain’s scene/sequel format?

Postby leshake » Sun Apr 01, 2018 3:24 pm

I've read Swain's work. I own both the paperback and the Kindle versions. Prefer the Kindle version since it's easily searchable. I use the scene-sequel idea proposed by Swain, but in a variation I learned before I read his stuff. The variation, from a book called Writing Great Stories by C. B. Hampton proposes a test for scenes called the GODPAPA test. GODPAPA is an acronym for Goal Opposition/Obstacle/Denouement/Disaster. PAPA describes the character's reaction to the disaster and stands for his/her resulting Passion, Analysis, Plan and finally the decision to Act. I find the GODPAPA scene/sequel test works perfectly and is easy to remember. By the way, has anyone read a Swain novel in which he properly demonstrates what he teaches. So far, I haven't.

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Re: Who’s familiar with Dwight Swain’s scene/sequel format?

Postby Jason Parker » Sun Apr 08, 2018 12:21 pm

Jim Butcher is a direct descendant of the Swain school of writing, so that's pretty cool, and it's proof the approach works.

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Re: Who’s familiar with Dwight Swain’s scene/sequel format?

Postby beavs007 » Tue Apr 10, 2018 5:04 am

Following conversation. I bought Swain's book and am interested in this dialogue.


Henckel wrote:The part that confuses me is just how large these are? Depending on the website or blog I visit, I get a different answer. One website gave an example using the entire book format of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. Another site gives examples where scene sequel is used on a near paragraph level, and where the individual sentences are bulked out by the Motivation-Reaction Units (MRUs).

In my opinion, the MRUs don’t work as well if the larger scale scene sequels are defining the “whole story”. Am I right?

Also, should a scene sequel be used back to back in each chapter?

Do I need 1 scene to 1 sequel ratio?

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Re: Who’s familiar with Dwight Swain’s scene/sequel format?

Postby morganb » Tue Apr 10, 2018 7:22 am

I've driven myself nuts in the past trying to box my story into a pre-fabricated package where so many rules apply. I've always thought of Swain's scene/sequel format more of a guideline of how the elements of a story naturally progress, rather than a step by step plotting guide where every thing must go here, and here, and here in this particular order.

Characters must be goal or objective-driven. That's always the starting point for me. What does my character want more than anything? We root for story characters, not because they achieve their goals, but because they keep trying even though they keep failing. So we show our characters trying to obtain their goal, then struggling to overcome obstacles in their path, then failing miserably (goal—conflict—disaster).

Failure sucks and feels awful. None of us enjoys it and we all have to recover from it. We deal with those feelings, then we pick ourselves up out of the dirt and climb back into the saddle, and then we try something different (reaction—dilemma—decision). It's really sort of a natural cycle of things.

How you show these Scene-Sequel units will depend on how you decide to structure your short story or novel. They don't necessarily have to be used exactly back to back from one chapter to the next, especially if the story is following several plot lines. However, I believe for each main character, the natural arc of the story will follow this sequence, simply because we must see the conflict of a character pursuing a goal, failing, dealing with that failure, and deciding on a new course of action. The whole cycle could take place within a single chapter, or you could break it into more than one chapter. I think a single paragraph might be pushing it, because those are a lot of elements and emotions to show in such a short amount of space. But the story and the pacing should dictate how much time you devote to each element and where they are placed within the overall framework. A story for WOTF may only have enough space to show one of these cycles before the story is over, whereas you'll have multiple try/fail cycles within the course of a novel.

Anyway, that's my two cents worth.

~Morgan
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Henckel
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Re: Who’s familiar with Dwight Swain’s scene/sequel format?

Postby Henckel » Mon May 07, 2018 6:08 pm

Thanks Morgan.

I haven't logged on in a while and just saw your response. Well said 


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