- Paperback: 344 pages
- Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press; unknown edition (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: 237 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #86,992 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Ultimately every writer finds their own way to write. You can plug away mercilessly at that, or do something a bit more productive, and have someone to set you upon on e of the paths. Professor Swain does this rather nicely, and with the delicate touch needed for new writers.
The book does show its age in some of the language, especially with regard to politically correct approaches to race and gender. However, I don't think it does so to its detriment. At least it does it no more than a reading of Shakespeare.
If you are looking to get started and have no idea, this book is for you. If you've been trying to get words to the page, but spend most your time staring at blankness, this book is for you. If you want to, as Mr. King says in a similar genre of book, "fill your toolbox" which is currently empty, this book is for you. Come to think of it, this book is really for everyone. The world could stand a few more good, maybe even great, writers. Good luck.
Here's why. Writing and storytelling are separate skills. It took me years to figure this out, and I want to spare you the pain. They are separate skills. This is why so many English majors can't write a novel, and creative writing courses don't necessarily produce good writers. They teach writing. Not storytelling. What you ought to do is learn screenwriting, get a MFA, or read this book. Now, to be clear, I already did a lot of research online on the craft of storytelling. The "craft" agents and publishers keep talking about is the craft of storytelling. NOT writing. Do you honestly think people read Dan Brown for the writing? Get real.
This book came out in 1974. It uses outdated examples. For example. it assumes women are homemakers and writers tend to be men, and stuff like that. There are a lot of jokes that'd be considered racist today. And a few times he throws around rape as if it's an expected plot point in action-packed stories. But overall the examples are more humorous than seriously offensive, if you're easily offended.
Anyway, here's the bottom line on how I know it works. Everything in this book--and keep in mind it's from 1974 without any revisions--describes what's good about stories such as the Hunger Games, Twilight, John Grisham, and any other bestseller you can think of. It gives you very concrete lessons on how to tell a good story, as well as WHY certain techniques work.
My only regret is not reading this years ago.
Obviously you must read and write a lot. No shortcut exists there. But to say that you will learn everything you need to know by reading and writing is like saying you will become an expert marksman by shooting and watching other people shoot. Or you will become an excellent painter by painting and watching other people paint. No. You must know the techniques. And these techniques are universal and timeless. If you've read a lot and pay attention to what you are reading, nothing Swain says will seem new or strange to you. For me, about 60% of what he describes I already understood on an intuitive level, just because I pay attention when I watch movies or read books, on why something engages me or turns me off. But when I went through this book it was like having an epiphany. All of a sudden I understood WHY a story is good. Now I have terms to describe my "gut feelings" and intuitions. Swain breaks it down like a science.
The book has it's flaws, perceived or real (not 5 stars, after all). Maybe I was reading too much between the lines, but a few things had me question the character of this author. Apparently, whether a "lone Negro teacher" who's "fresh out of college" can prove she's as competent as the other teachers in a white high school use to be a good story question, but whether "Negroes are as good as whites" is "a question that can't be resolved in fiction." Everything about that rubs me the wrong way. I don't like the way it's worded, and I loathe that our not so distant history could make it possible for anyone to consider that a "debate on anthropological or sociological theory".
I also raise an eyebrow when I read that the "main function" of a heroine is to be "the hero's reward", and that her "prime characteristic is desirability". Women are often indicated as an objective, a prize, or a catalyst to the hero, but rarely *as* the hero. Again, maybe it's out of context or I'm drawing correlations that aren't there, but I'm annoyed by comments like one suggesting... declaring actually, that many men's pent-up aggression and hate is mostly the result of frustrations created by the females in their lives. Are these innocent examples of story elements out of context, or sharp indicators of the total lack of respect and value this author from a different era had in regards to women? These little comments are few and far between, tiny insignificant nuggets contradicting what I would otherwise describe as valuable insight into the human condition.
Other complaints? A coupe chapters have a fair amount of content that feels redundant, possibly attempting to reinforce earlier lessons in new way, but usually in the exact same way. I felt it the most reading Chapter 7, but it wasn't exclusive to that chapter. Also, since it's an older book, countless references (especially to authors and books) were completely irrelevant to me as useful examples.
Overall, the book is long and boring like most other instructional books, but it contains more practical foundation skills on writing in one place than any other book or online article I've read. Though generally not very exciting, I was entertained by the author pointing out, at least as I'd describe it, the flawed arrogance and ego of the editor. Without imagining the practical applications of an internet or the shifting landscape of book publishing, it was nice to know there was still a focus on self and finding your own way back in the day, in spite of some stranger telling you your writing wasn't worth paper. I sort of like that nothing in that regard has changed in 50 years. If an editor thinks they know better than you, and can do something you can't, than an editor can obviously be dead wrong. Again, greatly fond of the recurring theme that your story is *your* story. If you like it, you're probably not the only one that likes it. And they'll like it *for* the story, not for your technically masterful writing technique.