If you haven’t heard of it, Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain, was originally published in 1965, but, except for some writing demonstrations that are a bit outdated, the book itself remains a goldmine for writers today.
Swain was a writer and longtime teacher of professional writing at the University of Oklahoma, and his book is filled with advice of how to create fiction that will appeal to the masses — and such, make money. He deals with conflict, structure and characters in a casual and inspiring way, offering plenty of fun examples to show his theory in action.
For example, when he encourages writers to choose the right word, to dig down and provide detail, he says:
“Broadly speaking, the thing you need to avoid is the general as contrasted with the particular (reptile creates a less vivid image than does rattler); the vague as contrasted with the definite (them guys is less meaningful than those three hoods who hang out at Sammy’s poolroom); and the abstract as contrasted with the concrete (to say that something is red tells me less than to state that it’s exactly the color of the local fire truck).”
“When a character excites and fascinates a reader, said reader wants to read about him … experience with him.”
“A story records change. It sets forth the details of how your focal character moves from one state of affairs and state of mind to another.”
The crux of Swain’s advice is motivation and feeling — characters must have motivation to keep them, and thus the story, moving forward, and the story must evoke feeling in the reader to keep them turning pages. Definitely something for us writers and editors to keep top-of-mind.
And, perhaps even more important, is that Swain tells us we should let go when we write, let go of rules and self-censorship.
“Hem a writer in with rules, and in spite of himself, he unconsciously weighs each new thought against the standard of the rule … To be a writer, a creative person, you must retain your ability to react uniquely.”
I couldn’t agree more!
Have you read Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer? What do you think?