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The gospel according to Dwight

My well-thumbed copy of The Book

I haven’t read every craft book out there, but I’ve read a lot of them. Some good, some great, some, well, not so fab. My short list would include anything on writing by James Scott Bell, Story Structure Demystified by Larry Brooks, Save the Cat! (and its sequel) by Blake Snyder, and Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon.

But if I could only choose one book to read on my journey to publication, it would be Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain.

Yes, the book is old (1965) and its examples are a bit outdated. But the principles stand. Think the advice to start at the point of change is new? Wrong. It’s in there. Cause and effect, consistency, scene goals, character goals, creating conflict, tension, writing the dreaded middle. It’s truly one-stop shopping for the craft of writing.

Yes, the book is 300 pages of small print, long paragraphs, and no chapter summaries. But everything within is brilliant. Every turn of the page brought an “aha” to my lips. I marked so many pages I might as well reread the whole thing. I should have taken notes.

Yes, a lot of Swain’s ideas are out there in other forms. In fact, I’d argue that almost every other writing book available is a distillation or expansion of one or more of his key ideas. And I think seeing the same thing in different formats at different points in your learning process has a lot of value.

All I’m saying is that at some point along the way, this book should be part of your education.

And if I had a fire and could only grab one book, I’d take this one.

Do you have a favorite writing book? Make your case! 😉

0 Comments

  1. Reply

    The book that woke me up and got me to write again was Stephen King’s “On Writing.”

    I love this book and I’ve seen many editors, writers and agents saying this is a must have on a novelist’s bookshelf.

    He breaks it into two parts.

    Part I is a biography of sorts that takes us through his story. From the pain of being dead broke to the call to his bouts with alcoholism.

    Part two is about the craft of writing. If you’re a pantser, you’ll love his approach. I have it in hardcover, audio book and iBook. I read it whenever I’m waiting in line. Feeling a bit out of it, or just need a jolt of adrenalin.

    Then he has a bonus section where he recounts the accident that nearly killed him. And how this book, On Writing, sat collecting dust because he didn’t think he could write again to finish it.

    You don’t have to be a Stephen King fan to get value from his work.

    Highly recommend it.

    Now, I have to see if I can find a copy of “Techniques of a Selling Writer” 🙂

    • Reply

      That sounds great, Ara. I’ve heard a lot of good things about King’s book. *Adds to Evernote list*

      I haven’t read any of his books in a long time, but I read quite of few of them as a teen. CHRISTINE and FIRE STARTER were stand outs.

      Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. Reply

    I like Jurgen Wolff’s stuff because he mixes the writing advice with how to focus and lose your inner critic etc. I have his ‘Your Writing Coach’ and ‘Focus’. He also hosts MAD days – Massive Action Days – for anyone worldwide. Writing is in many ways a solitary occupation so once every few months we all log in for the day for however many hours we want to work. Jurgen gives a little 5 minute talk at the top of every hour and we decide what we want to achieve in the next hour and get encouragement, advice, give encouragement and advice to everyone who is in the loop. I love the sound of the Dwight book, though. I’ll see if I can track one down.

    • Curtis

      Reply

      Gwen, thanks for the book suggestion. It’s hard for me to think of 1965 as old. I graduated HS in 1963. Wasn’t that just the other day. 🙂

      I zipped over to Amazon and took a peek at Swain’s index. I have to read a book that has a listing for ” Yourself, need to be.”

      His should also be a fresh look at book writing since I didn’t find one listing for archtypes or primal. Writing had to wait for Joseph Campbell to develop into the guru of myth for those two subject areas to surface as keys to it all.

      In a fire I would grab — Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and The principles of Screenwriting—- by Robert McKee and a handful of Larry Brook’s early blogs.

      Are you going to see anything of Irene?

      • Reply

        Curtis: I’ve heard really good things about Robert McKee as well. I actually had his book on hold at the library, but it came in the same week as several others, and it was so LONG that I decided to wait. Guess I should add it to my list again.

        Not sure how close Irene will come to us, it just depends on the route she ends up taking. I expect we’ll at least get some good rain, but it’s the wind and power outages I’m more worried about. We’re about twenty miles west of D.C.

        Thanks!

        • Curtis

          Reply

          McKee’s book is long. 🙂 But, for inquiring minds he opens the “why” of the writing process beyond —” This works. It sells. It’s the way it is done. Just do it.” — thought process.

          It is a book to study and ponder. When he finishes with the Inciting Incident you understand it in your person not just your head.

          He is the only instructor I have read who understands and tries to show what he calls the positive and negative charge in any relationship that makes the people/story etc attractive and engaging to the reader.

          I call it the “yeah but factor.”

          Over simplified example:

          Curtis says, ” The sky is blue”

          Gwen responds, ” Well, earlier it seemed to have a funny tint to it.”

          Curtis asks, ” I don’t know?” I was here earlier and it looked blue to me.

          Gwen responds: ” From where I was standing, right over there under that tree ,it had sort of a bone white tinge to it.”

          Curtis speaks and thinks in absolutes. Gwen speaks and thinks in variables, variation and shades of meaning. The ever present undertow such as this, even with friends adds the life dimension to characters.

          The cool thing about this positive/negative charge idea, it applies people to people, people to ideas, people to setting, context, events.

          Example of people to event:
          The pure white dime sized hail pelted his bald head. ( Negative charge)

          Curtis opened his big red umbrella, stood under it and laughed.
          (Positive charge)

          Basically, everything in the story — relates— to everything else in the story. When that happens, you have written ” The Help.”

          McKee is the master of understanding and explaining this.

          • Reply

            All right, all right, Curtis! I’m convinced. 😉 No, seriously, it sounds like a fabulous book and I’ll definitely check it out. Thanks!!

    • Reply

      Avril: I haven’t heard of Jurgen Wolff, but I’ll have to check him out. I can always use help on leaving my inner critic behind when I’m writing. Thanks for the recommendation!

  3. Curtis

    Reply

    Gwen.

    For some reason when I posted in the weee hours of the AM it showed up under another post. Anyway, thanks for the book suggestion. It’s hard for me to think of 1965 as old. I graduated HS in 1963. Wasn’t that just the other day. 🙂

    I zipped over to Amazon and took a peek at Swain’s index. I have to read a book that has a listing for ” Yourself, need to be.”

    His should also be a fresh look at book writing since I didn’t find one listing for archtypes or primal. Writing had to wait for Joseph Campbell to develop into the guru of myth for those two subject areas to surface as keys to it all.

    In a fire I would grab — Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and The principles of Screenwriting—- by Robert McKee and a handful of Larry Brook’s early blogs.

    Are you going to see anything of Irene?

  4. Reply

    IYes, I read Swain’s book. Thankfully, I took notes in the margins, underlined, and starred many of his points since I like to return to it occasionally as a refresher.

    I’d also recommend SELF EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS by Browne & King, THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO HEROES &HEROINES by Cowden, LaFever, & Viders, and WRITE TIGHT by William Brohaugh. These were among the most useful to me as a new romance writer.

    • Reply

      Jolyse: I did (gasp!) dog ear the heck out of my copy of Swain, so I flip through those nuggets when I have a minute.

      I have the Cowden book. It’s good, especially if you don’t have any background with personality styles. I’ll have to check out the other two. Thanks for the recommendations!

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