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

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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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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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