Narrative Writing


Precipitating Event

The function of your story's beginning is to let your reader know there's going to be a fight . . . and that it's the kind of fight that will interest him.

To that end, beginning spotlights three things: desire, danger, decision. Someone wants to attain or retain something. Something else threatens his chances of so doing. He decides to fight that threat.

             — Dwight V. Swain, Techniques of the Selling Writer

The "end of the beginning" is the precipitating event—the event that's going to disrupt your hero's routine.

Here are some examples:

Whatever it is, it should rattle your hero enough to cause him to set a goal, thus establishing the story question and moving the story forward.

Here is how Dwight V. Swain describes the precipitating event:

Enter change.

Change is some new element or relationship injected into the existing state of affairs. Something happens that makes the original situation different. Perhaps the temperature drops, or the sun comes up, or a stranger enters, or a girl says yes.

In the quiet household, change may be a leaky pipe or a visiting neighbor or a backfiring truck that wakes the baby. On the battlefield, it may be a machine gun that jams, or a sniper's bullet that kills the squad leader, or an enemy rush that cuts off a unit.

Not that changes necessarily appear to be disastrous. Good news—new information received on anything from health to weather—may upset a situation every bit as much as bad.

               — Dwight V. Swain, Techniques of the Selling Writer

Instructions for the Quiz

Answer the questions.