“The best way to learn is to teach.” – Frank Oppenheimer
This post serves as an introduction to a new series I’ll be writing this year, focusing specifically on Dwight V. Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer. I’ve spent the past six months reading, rereading, and marking up this “Fiction Writer’s Bible” and I felt a desire to share the ideas it contains and the insights it’s given me toward my own work. If you have even a modicum of interest in the forthcoming posts, please do yourself a favor and pick up the book. I can think of worse references to have on your writer’s shelf.
When did this love affair first begin? You may remember the post where I professed my initial admiration. This was upon an incomplete first reading and my respect for Mr. Swain has only grown with subsequent rereadings. Chipping away at the bedrock of text revealed that all of those tiny flecks of instructive gold were merely the signs of huge veins running throughout the book.
Swain spreads his thoughts out into ten major sections and there will be at least one post covering each of these. Matters deserving deeper attention will likely be broken down even more.
Why am I doing this? For a couple of reasons.
I’m sure the introductory quote gave away reason number one, but the fact is that reviewing the ideas contained within the book will aid in my own understanding. I’ve moved from skimming, to reading, to highlighting, to writing notes. Now it’s time for me to advance toward the best way to show I understand something — repeat it in my own words. I believe doing so will offer deeper insights and encourage exchanges with my readers in the comment section, hopefully to the benefit of everyone involved.
The above might even answer your first likely question – “Who does this Phillip guy think he is, teaching writing techniques? Where can I buy his bestselling novels?” Okay, that was two questions. But who’s counting?
If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know my goal is not so much to imply that these techniques have been successful for me and therefore, of course you should use them. No, I’m still a scared little child in this brave new world of writing. I’m not an expert. I’m a sponge. I use this blog to document what I’m absorbing as I march down the path to being an author (notice I didn’t say “writer”). I’m trying to ingest as much information as I can from as many different sources possible because I feel that you can always learn something from anyone — whether that be a negative or positive lesson.
If you take all of these techniques with a grain of salt, so be it. Even Swain himself states that much of what he lays out are simply tools. It’s not the only way to go about things and that whatever path you choose to arrive at your destination, you remain the most vital factor. The ideas, twists, character insights, and emotions that excite your reader’s imagination are yours and yours alone.
But at least you will have more ammunition in your writer’s bandoleer. If you don’t already, you should know that not all things apply at all times and some of these methods may be the spark you need to create your own.
So with all of that said, I ask that you engage this series of articles with an open mind. You just might be pleasantly surprised.
- Fiction and You
- The Words You Write
- Feelings and Manipulation – Part 1
- Feelings and Manipulation – Part 2
- Scene and Sequel
- Fiction Strategy
- Planning: An Overview of Beginning, Middle, and End