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Techniques of the Selling Writer

186 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0806111919
ISBN-10: 0806111917
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About the Author

Dwight V. Swain spent a lifetime writing newspaper and magazine articles, pulp fiction, and screenplays. For more than twenty years he taught in the Professional Writing Program at the University of Oklahoma. His popular books, Techniques of the Selling Writer and Creating Characters: How to Build Story People are published by the University of Oklahoma Press.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press (January 15, 1981)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0806111917
  • ISBN-13: 978-0806111919
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (186 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #91,592 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

222 of 225 people found the following review helpful By Sunnye Tiedemann on July 1, 2002
Format: Paperback
Although Swain's book was originally published in 1965, there's a very good reason why it's still in print. The information he presents is solid, useful and timeless.
The book has 10 chapters. The first, Fiction and You, tells what the writer needs to know and gives common traps writers fall into. Then he discusses things like rules and the creative act of writing. His style is terse and sentences are short. That makes it easy to find specific information when you go back later to look for it.
In the second chapter he gets down to serious business -- words. How to find them, how to use them and make them clear and concise. The third chapter is all about feelings and how to use them. In the fourth he goes into the necessity for conflict, what to do and not to do in building it. Chapter Five presents the strategies of fiction. "Fiction..." he writes, "creates an especially vivid vicarious tension...Your job as a writer is to control and manipulate this tension." He also delineates the source of story satisfaction and describes how to produce it.
Chapter 6 is all about getting a story started, lining up story elements, developing the middle of the story and winding it up. Story people and the importance of characters and character development are covered in Chapter 7. Planning the story, recognizing good story material, preparing to write, and what you need in order to succeed as a writer wind up the last few chapters. He devotes one page to marketing advice and that simply directs the reader to study the markets.
This is, without a doubt, one of the most useful and easiest to use books on the craft of writing that has ever been published. Its advice is timeless. This book should be in every writer's collection.
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59 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Maine Character on August 11, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Janny Wurts said this is the best book for learning craft, and then I found all these rave reviews, and everyone was right - this is one of the best books on writing fiction there is. I have over twenty, and even after all that, when reading yet another chapter on point of view is like slogging through sludge, Swain brings such refreshing verve and wit to the subject that everything seems new again. And it actually is, since he clues you in to key aspects you'd never considered before.

First, some clarifications - forget the title and the ugly cover. Rip them off, if you like. A better title would be "Techniques of the Dramatic Writer People Will Enjoy Reading." `Cause that's Swain's clarification - that this book isn't about writing for literary journals, and it's not about shallow novels or selling out. It's about solid storytelling and what engages audiences. What will, in the end, sell, simply because it's what publishers are looking for - novels with depth, feeling, and compelling characters that carries audiences along from one scene to the next.

Most books on writing stay at one level - the literary theories that just briefly touch on actual works you've heard of, and the cookie-cutter manuals that stay on the surface without giving you the tools or insight you're looking for. But here you find a combination of psychological depth and street wisdom that teaches you how to write with both emotional insight and compelling action.

To top it off, Swain not only gives you the basic story structure of a hero facing conflict, but also gives a few nuggets I haven't seen in other books, such as curtain lines, scene and sequel, pet fragments, simultaneity, framing tightly in close-ups, reaction sentences, and the hero's stated goal vs. their true goal.
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69 of 70 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 11, 2001
Format: Paperback
I had published a fair amount of fiction BEFORE I read it. But reading Swain, having him help me take apart the structure of my scenes, the very order of the sentences in a paragraph, the order of words in a sentence, and to then change them for maximum power--wow! Since then I've published much more fiction, because I have an understanding of the techniques of writing. The selling parts of the book are things I've gotten elsewhere, but learning what makes good sentences, good scenes, balanced chapters--it's worth a fortune. This book and Gary Provost's MAKING YOUR WORDS WORK are the two best tools for writers I've found. And I'm saying this as my 1th book is about to come out, and my 500th shorter piece. Thanks, Dwight. Wish you were still around.
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79 of 85 people found the following review helpful By Patricia Kay on November 10, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book was recommended to me before I sold my first book, and I'm certain what I learned in reading it contributed to that first sale and all the ones that followed (I've sold 45 novels in all). I highly recommend it, not only for novices, but for all writers.
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Tami D. Cowden on December 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is a tried and true classic among books on fiction writing.
This is a hefty read -- best digested in smaller portions, but well worth the effort. Swain takes separate looks on all aspects of story building -- characterization, plot, scene structure, etc., and pulls them apart to get to the basic elements. The approach is somewhat scholarly, but for those wrters who do study it, this book will definitely increase understanding of the interlocking components of great fiction.
Readers should remember that this book was first published decades ago. The markets -- especially book and short story markets - have changed quite a bit since then. Thus, the reader should take care to separate the craft advice - which is timeless -- from the advice related to selling, which may not be so timeless. Also, Swain does not give many examples, but the few that are given are, at times, somewhat obscure.
With only that caveat in mind, this book is one I'd expect to see on a serious writer's bookshelf.
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