Friday, April 10

Welcome Author Matthew Peters

Hey Wranglers, today we welcome writer Matthew Peters to the blog. Dual diagnosed* from an early age, Matthew Peters dropped out of high school at sixteen. He went on to obtain a B.A. from Vassar College, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Duke University. He has taught various courses in a variety of disciplines throughout North Carolina. Matthew is committed to increasing the awareness and understanding of the dual-diagnosed.

CONVERSATIONS AMONG RUINS (All Things That Matter Press) features a dual-diagnosed character. THE BROTHERS' KEEPERS (MuseItUp Publishing), is a political-religious thriller that capitalizes on his love for history and research. Currently, he is working on a sequel to THE BROTHERS' KEEPERS.

Learn more about Matthew at

*The term dual diagnosed refers to someone suffering from a mood disorder (e.g., depression) and chemical dependency (e.g., alcohol-use disorder).

Framing the Story Question
 How do you frame an idea in such a way that it lends itself to writing a whole story, or even a novel?
I’m not going to talk about where ideas come from. But I will mention one place that’s worked for me: reading. I think the best story ideas come from reading, especially non-fiction.
In conjunction with reading, you may benefit from playing the what-if game. As I’ll mention a little later I eventually developed the story-line for one of my novels, THE BROTHERS’ KEEPERS, by playing this game—well, by playing the game and also by doing a boatload of research.

So let’s say you’ve come up with a basic idea for a story. One of the things I like to do next is to make sure the idea hasn’t been done to death. How do you do this? Plug a few key words of your topic into Amazon with the tag “fiction” added and see what comes up.
Once I’ve come up with a basic idea for a story, and thought a little about the main characters, I try to frame the story in two sentences. This framing of the story in two sentences is one of the most important things I’ve learned after writing two novels and reading a boatload of books on writing.

I learned the technique from Dwight v. Swain, who lays it out in his book TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER If you don’t have this book, I strongly recommend you get a copy. It is my favorite book on writing.
Okay, so what is this two-sentence method of framing a story?
The first sentence is a statement that deals with character, situation, and objective, and the second is a question that deals with opponent and disaster. That’s all well and good, but what does this look like in practice?
It is hard to improve on Swain’s examples so I’ll start by simply relating one of his. Say you are writing a science-fiction story.
Your basic idea is that humans start growing very tall and the main character’s objective is to find out why. So your first sentence that deals with character, situation, and objective looks something like this:
Sentence 1: When humans suddenly sprout to twelve-feet tall, John Storm tries to find out why.
The first sentence of story structure is posited in the form of a statement. In it, we have the situation (humans suddenly growing tall), the character (John Storm) and the objective (trying to find out why this is happening).
The second sentence that frames the story deals with opponent and disaster and is cast in the form of a question:
Sentence 2: But can he (John Storm) defeat the traitors in high places who want to kill him in order to make the change appear to be the result of an extraterrestrial plot?
Here we have the opponent and the disaster that threatens our protagonist—namely, death.
Another example:
Sentence 1: Sick of the conformity and hypocrisy that go with his high-paid job, and with a modest life income assured, Dale Boulton decides to retire ten years early, to go live on a shanty boat and poke through crumbling river ghost-towns, in fulfillment of a boyhood dream.
Sentence 2: Can he make the break successfully, when his wife, Sandra, fights him all the way and finally, threatens to have him declared incompetent?
Let’s take an example everyone is probably familiar with: THE WIZARD OF OZ.

What would sentence one look like for this story?
Sentence 1: When a cyclone drops Dorothy into a strange new world, she seeks to return home to her farm in Kansas.
Sentence 2: Can she get the great Wizard of Oz to assist her in her efforts to return home before the Wicked Witch of the East kills her?
This may sound simple, but framing story structure in such a way, really helps.
For THE BROTHERS’ KEEPERS, I started off with a fascination for the Jesuits. After a good deal of reading and research I eventually formulated and honed the two sentence story structure into something like the following:
Sentence 1: Nicholas Branson, a renegade Jesuit, is brought into an investigation to help solve the mystery of a Senator’s murder.
Sentence 2: Can he discover the truth before he’s killed by religious and political officials trying to keep the mystery a secret?
Eventually, THE BROTHERS’ KEEPERS grew into a story with the following mini-synopsis:

Most of us are familiar with Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph, and Jesus’ purported spouse, Mary Magdalene. But what about Jesus’ siblings? What role did they play in early Christianity?
Contemporary Jesuit and renowned religious historian Nicholas Branson is about to find out…and the answer will shake the foundations of the Judeo-Christian world.
It all starts with the murder of a United States Senator in a confessional, and the discovery of a strange religious document among his possessions. At the urging of his FBI friend, Branson joins the investigation. His effort to uncover the truth behind the murder draws him into the search for an eight-hundred-year-old treasure and into a web of ecclesiastical and political intrigue.
Accompanied by a beautiful, sharp-tongued research librarian, Jessica Jones, Branson follows a trail of clues, from the peaks of the awe inspiring French Pyrenees to the caves of war-torn Afghanistan. Along the way, shadowy powerful forces trail the pair, determined to keep safe a secret buried for centuries.
This book is largely genre fiction. Does the two-sentence farming method work in the case of literary fiction?
I have found it useful. For my book CONVERSATIONS AMONG RUINS, the two sentences started out like this:

Sentence 1: While in detox, Daniel Stavros, a young, dual diagnosed lecturer, meets and falls in love with the cryptic Mimi Dexter, a woman who has a tattoo identical to a pendant Daniel’s mother gave him right before she died.
Sentence 2: Can Daniel maintain his job and his sanity in the face of an increasingly tempestuous and mysterious romance?
This story evolved into the following:
CONVERSATIONS AMONG RUINS  is a portrait of a descent into madness, and the potential of finding salvation there.

While in detox, Daniel Stavros, a young, dual diagnosed* professor meets and falls in love with the cryptic Mimi Dexter. But Mimi has secrets and, strangely, a tattoo identical to a pendant Daniel’s mother gave him right before she died.
Drawn together by broken pasts, they pursue a twisted, tempestuous romance. When it ends, a deteriorating Stavros seeks refuge at a mountain cabin where a series of surreal experiences brings him face to face with something he’s avoided all his life: himself.
Though miles away, Mimi’s actions run oddly parallel to Daniel’s. Will either be redeemed, or will both careen toward self-destruction?
*The term dual diagnosed refers to someone suffering from a mood disorder (e.g., depression) and chemical dependency (e.g., alcohol-use disorder).
Can you take your work in progress and frame it using the two sentence structure?
I'd love to hear what you come up with.
All the best,


  1. Thanks for visiting the Round Corral today, and for starting such an interesting conversation. I have not read Swain (I think I may be the only writer I know who hasn't), but have tried--less than successfully--the two-sentence exercise.

    Your books sound terrific.

    1. Thanks so much, Liz. I would say that Swain's book is my favorite when it comes to practical advice for writing fiction.

  2. Thanks so much for having me here today, Nan!

    1. Matthew, so glad you join the WW today! Another author confessing to not having read Swain, but I'm going to fix that by ordering his book today--I like the two-sentence method of beginning. Yes, I do the "what-if" thing all the time when I see interesting people or situations on the street or the news...just anywhere really.

      The Brothers' Keepers is a great book! Thanks for being with us today!

  3. Interesting post, Matthew, about how you came up with the ideas of Conversations Among Ruins and The Brothers' Keepers, both excellent books that I highly recommend.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Susan. The two sentence structure is something I wouldn't be without. I appreciate the kind words regarding my books. I am a huge fan of your Kay Driscoll mysteries as well.