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Techniques of the Selling Writer

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Techniques of the Selling Writer

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Techniques of the Selling Writer
By Dwight V. Swain
University of Oklahoma Press: Norman, 1965
Paperback Edition Published 1981
ISBN: 978-0-8061-1191-9

Reviewed by Anna Dogole - October 15, 2012

I am firmly convinced that anyone can learn the technical aspects of writing fiction. After reading Techniques of the Selling Writer, you'll agree. You can go about learning the technical aspects of fiction one of two ways. Trial and error, or you can cut years off of your journey by learning all you can learn from others. Hundreds, if not thousands of books on writing are available. If you look hard enough, most have something decent to offer. Only a few (in my opinion) are worth space on your bookshelf. When I look back over all the writing books that I have read over the years, there is only a handful that I found really useful, and at the top of that list is Techniques of the Selling Writer, by Dwight V. Swain (1915 - 1992).

Techniques of the Selling Writer is a pithy, ten chapter book that is essential reading for anyone serious about writing and selling fiction. This is one of those books that you are bound to read with a marker in you hand, underlining and highlighting key points, and then going back and rereading and studying the book until it begins to fall apart in your hands. One of the things that makes this book so great is that Swain not only clearly and succinctly explains the various concepts and techniques that he is discussing, but he also provides step-by-step guidance on how to incorporate these techniques into your own writing. Not just for beginners, this book offers keen insights and valuable tips that even professional writers will benefit from.

The book begins with the basics, including the four things you need to know to "...write a solid story" and continues to walk you through the entire writing process up to and including how to format your manuscript. In between he points out pitfalls to avoid, provides tips on word choice and creativity, and explains how to put emotion into your story. He also teaches you how to construct and use motivation-reaction units (the key technique in Swain's arsenal). In this book you'll also learn how to create scene - sequel chains that will not only drive your story foreword, but which will help to make your story un-put-down-able! If you've not discovered motivation-reaction units on your own, this technique will revolutionize how you write. Not only does this technique infuse your story with feelings and emotion, but it also helps you to put the action in your story in a logical order. In addition, Swain also provides tips on how to revise your story, how to organize and structure your story, how to build tension and conflict in your story, how to create characters that readers will really care about, and much, much more...

I'm not going to explain any of Swain's techniques in this review. I think that it is best to learn them directly from the proverbial horse's mouth. If you are curious about them, just do an internet search for motivation-reaction units or M-R units and you'll come across a host of websites that paraphrase or otherwise explain this and some of Swain's other key techniques. While useful regurgitations of Swain's work, I found that Swain explained these techniques much better, and with more clarity, then did his followers. So check out these sites, then get your hands on the real bag of gold, and read Techniques of the Selling Writer for yourself.

From how to structure your story to fleshing out your characters, Techniques of the Selling Writer has all you need to get your writing career started on the right foot, or to further hone your current writing skills. Will simply learning the techniques in this book make you a best-selling author? Probably not, but they will help. No matter how technically proficient you become as a writer, it still takes imagination, time, persistence, perseverance, and a little luck never hurts, when it comes to making the New York Times Best Sellers list. What this book will do, however, is to help you skip years of trial and error and teach you the basic skills that you need to craft a sellable story.

A couple of things to keep in mind when reading this book... For starters, it was written in the early 1960's and some of Swain's phraseology is dated and not, by today's standards, politically correct. The text is also a bit dated when it comes to things like formatting your manuscript - he mentions that you should be sure to use a black typewriter ribbon. Use a little of your imagination and you can easily update these 'dated' sections as you read. Otherwise, I could find nothing wrong with this book. I wish I had discovered it earlier in my writing career, as it would have greatly shortened my writing apprenticeship. No matter where you are in your career when you first read this book, it will prove invaluable. Consequently, if you are serious about becoming a professional author or improving your writing skills, get a copy of this book. Techniques of the Selling Writer is still in print for one very important reason; it is the best writing guide around for anyone interested in writing and selling fiction. Most important, the information that Swain imparts in this book is timeless, and it will serve writers equally well today as it will a hundred years from now. If you are serious about selling your fiction, do yourself a favor, get a copy of this book and try out Swain's techniques. Even if you only find one tip useful, you'll find that your time and money were well spent! I highly recommend this book to every writer on the planet.

Also, be sure to check out Creating Characters: How to Build Story People, another outstanding how-to writing book written by Dwight V. Swain, and published by the University of Oklahoma Press!

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