Narrative Writing

 

Disaster

Every story needs to build to a climax. So, you threaten your focal character with Something Unutterably Awful which he must face close to the end, just before you let him off the hook.

               — Dwight V. Swain, Techniques of the Selling Writer

Ask yourself this question: What terrible thing will befall your protagonist is she doesn't get what she wants? Whatever it is, that's your disaster.

The bigger the disaster, the better. But that doesn't mean that all disasters have be life-and-death calamities.

Sure, in a James Bond movie, the fate of the whole world might depend on what Bond does next.

But small setbacks can also be disasters. Say, for example, that your hero asks a girl on a date, and she says "no." That doesn't seem so bad, does it? It's certainly not a disaster. Unless, of course, you have built it up: Your hero is a poor orphan who has never been loved, and this girl is the only one who has ever treated him nicely, and if she says no, it's going to shatter his world . . .

Get the point? A disaster is a good disaster if it's going to completely ruin any chance that your hero will every be happy.

Study the following examples. The highlighted sentences give the reader a glimpse of the disaster looming on the horizon.

Bernard Stanley is a shy baker. His wife died five years ago, and now he is terribly lonely. He wants to ask one of his regular customers, Felicia, out on a date. Felicia's father want her to marry someone rich; he'll never agree to a marriage between his daughter and a baker. Felicia's father arranges a marriage between Felicia and a rich banker.

Sonja Simmons is an adventurous college student. While hiking in the wilderness, she discovers a mountain cave. She wants to explore the cave. Inside the cave she finds a hideous troll. The troll chains her up and refuses to let her leave.

Mario Lynch is a grumpy detective. One day, a client hires him to investigate a gruesome murder. He wants to solve the case. The murderer will do anything to avoid going to jail. The murderer plans to murder Detective Lynch.


Now it's your turn: What is the disaster that is going to befall your hero, if he doesn't attain his goal?

Lesson Steps

  1. Open your writing portfolio.
    • Level 16
      • The Six Story Elements
  2. Complete row 5 of the table. What is the disaster that threatens your hero's happiness?

Your table should now look something like this:

The Six Story Elements
Complete the six story elements
1 Character Bernard Stanley is a shy baker.
2 Situation His wife died five years ago, and now he is unbearably lonely.
3 Objective He wants to ask one of his regular customers out on a date. Her name is Felicia.
4 Opponent Felicia's father wants her to marry someone rich; he will never agree to a marriage between his daughter and a lowly baker.
5 Disaster In fact, Felicia's father has already arranged a a marriage between Felicia and a rich gentleman.
6 Story Question  

 

  1. When you are finished, return to this page and take the quiz.

Instructions for the Quiz

Answer the questions.

Quiz