The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, January 31, 2005

Dwight Swain Part Two: Motivation-Reaction units.

The second part of the Swain writing model has to do with the dynamics of process within a story:
The character has a goal, and if she can accomplish it easily, there is no story.  There must be a conflict.  The attempt to resolve the conflict leads to bad or awkward stuff--your "disaster".  Now, these first three steps comprise the "Scene" or the "Motivation"
Your character will have a reaction to the disaster.  Their reaction will place them on the horns of a Dilemma--choice A versus choice B, neither choice being great.  She must choose...or synthesize a new choice (The superior approach).  This choice represents a decision, which leads to a new goal...and the process begins anew.  It's a loop, don't you see?  And a story might only have one or two micro-cycles of this, while a book has dozens.  This second section is the "Reaction," and coupled together this is a "Motivation-Reaction Unit."  This is the power train within story, and as a simple model, it rocks.
Let's see how this works in, say, "The Godfather" for Michael Corleone:
Goal: to visit his father (who has been shot)
Conflict: the guards have been removed from the hospital.  This is no simple visit.
Disaster: Assassins are on the way.
Reaction: Fear
Dilemma: Self-preservation versus protection of father
Decision: To pretend to be armed and dangerous to stand off the assassins.
New Goal: to protect father
Conflict: This places Michael, an outsider to the family "business," firmly in the cross-hairs.
Disaster: A crooked policeman confronts Michael physically, trying to force him from the hospital...
And so it goes.  Take a section of a film you like, and start breaking it down.  Get to work!


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