Write Compelling Scenes with Goal, Conflict, Disaster (The Dwight Swain’s Approach)

Picture this, fellow writers: you’re immersed in a writing session, yearning to craft a tale that grips readers with an ironclad hold. Yet the scene falls flat. Enter Dwight V. Swain’s Scene with his goal, conflict, disaster method for building a solid scene. Find out how to infuse your writing with tension, action, and an irresistible forward thrust. Swain’s ideas show you how to write compelling scenes that will truly captivate your readers.

Who the Heck is Dwight Swain?

Dwight V. Swain was a literary powerhouse, often hailed as a writer’s writer. Although his name may not resonate with the likes of Hemingway or Fitzgerald, Swain’s contributions to the world of fiction are monumental. His expertise lay in the art of storytelling, unraveling the threads that connect readers to the heart and soul of a narrative.

Build a Concrete Goal

Your scene demands a burning focus your reader can easily recognize. Set your protagonist on a crystal clear path. What do they yearn to achieve? This goal should be specific and relevant to the overall story. It could be as simple as finding a key piece of information, overcoming an obstacle, or reaching a crucial decision. The goal doesn’t need to be a story-arching dilemma. It can be scene specific. A step on the protagonist’s path through the story. The most important thing is to make that goal shine like the North Star.

Ignite Conflict and Shatter Expectations

Let conflict surge through your scene like a lightning strike on a moonless night. You must pose a significant obstacle for your protagonist to struggle against. Something that prevents them from reaching their scene goal. Only through strife will the protagonist reveal their true essence.

This conflict can take various forms, such as a physical obstacle, a moral dilemma, or an interpersonal challenge. By raising the stakes and making the protagonist’s journey difficult, you generate suspense and keep readers invested in the outcome.

Escalate the Tension

Now, things get interesting. Take those stakes and increase the risk or consequences of failure for the protagonist. Maybe your protagonist’s plan runs afoul. A ticking clock always amps up the tension. If your scene doesn’t revolve around action, sharpen the tension through inferiority and the protagonist’s own urgency. Done right, this is where your readers’ nails find a new favorite chew toy.

Disaster (Where Everything Goes Wrong)

Every scene holds a moment of truth, that pivotal moment where the conflict reaches its crescendo. It is often marked by a disaster or a significant setback. This event is a turning point for your protagonist. Despite what Hollywood shows us, our characters don’t need to triumph in this moment. How your protagonist reacts is more important than simply succeeding. This disaster might alter your character’s trajectory, allowing them to triumph later on. Let this disaster consume your protagonist, leaving them wounded but thirsting for revenge.

Dial Up the Tension

Dwight Swain offers writers a powerful tool for creating engaging and dynamic scenes. Remember to establish clear goals, introduce conflict, escalate tension, and reach a climactic disaster. This is followed by a sequel scene (covered in the next post). Now, go forth and may your scenes dance with wickedness and intrigue until the final curtain falls.

Tim Kane

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