Most helpful positive review
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 2 February 2009
Techniques of the Selling Writer is a guide for those that above all want to write stories. This emphasis is important. Swain draws a distinction between stories and other kinds of writing. He doesn't try to denigrate "high" fiction but clearly states that his business is to teach you how to write stories that sell.
The good thing about this book is that while it doesn't cloud the fact that writing fiction is a difficult business, it does make you feel as if you can achieve something. Swain spends a lot of time bolstering your ego and assuring you that it can be done, saying that "A story is the triumph of ego over fear of failure." Sure, there is a lot of encouragement here but mostly the confidence you receive is from his step by step approach. Swain really does his best to arm you with useful, practical tools and techniques for producing stories.
The book takes you through the process of writing and what you should be doing at each stage. Fascinating, and for me revelatory, is its discussion of the writer's relationship with the reader; what this reader expects from a story and how the writer can provide this. Swain breaks everything down into easy to understand lists which he proceeds to explain in detail and with clear examples.
In its way I found this to be quite a philosophical book. Apart from the practical guidance there is much here on the nature of feeling and therefore what it is to be human. Swain has a deep insight into people and this is good as what else should you expect from a writer?
A few words of warning though: This book is quite old now. Much of it is outdated. Swain references many writers and works of fiction that the modern reader probably has never heard of. Swain uses slang and idioms straight from the early 1960s. This means that sometimes you need to reread his points just to be sure you understand. Finally there is much that today we would find politically incorrect.
Don't let these points put you off though. Though Swain's book could do with a bit of polishing up to bring it in line with the times the strength and quality of his advice is sound nonetheless. It certainly has made me think in a more analytically detailed way about how I write.