Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain (© 1965) was on the recommended resource list in my recent Odyssey workshop.
It focuses on structuring successful, cause-and-effect based commercial fiction through motivating stimulus and character reaction.
Be forewarned: it's outrageously sexist.
- The pertinent stimulus must show some change in the external world--your focal character’s state of affairs.
- This external change must [logically] evoke some change in [the character’s] internal world also--[their] state of mind.
- This internal change must reasonably lead [the character] to behave in a manner you want [them] to in order to move the story forward.
- The more tense the situation as your focal character experiences it, the more words you give it.
- Always, the points you bear down on are those that influence the development of your story.
- As a tool, a scene is designed to make the most of conflict
- Ideally, make your character’s goal clear-cut and explicit from the beginning
- Once you understand the fundamentals, the way to learn to write scenes is to write scenes.
- [The] reader must be captured and held by what’s offered…at this moment; not the ultimate pattern but the present experience.
- No story unit--not even a paragraph--ought to begin and end with the state of affairs and state of mind of each person involved exactly the same.
- The moment your story question is answered, your story itself ends, for all practical purposes.
He says: “You first have to be willing to be very, very bad in this business, if you’re ever to be good. Only if you stand ready to make mistakes today can you hope to move ahead tomorrow.
How do you master all the varied [writing] techniques? By writing stories. Which is to say, by being willing to be wrong.”
I bought a used copy of Techniques and expect I’ll refer to it repeatedly--despite the outdated sexism.
Scene & Structure is written by Jack M. Bickham, a protege of Dwight Swain’s, and presents similar ideas in terms of cause-and-effect scene structure. This book was also recommended by one of my writing teachers at Odyssey. Although written in 1993, it also suffers from overt sexism, however, has helpful tips that complement Techniques of the Selling Writer.
- For maximum effectiveness, start your story at the time of change that threatens your major character’s self-concept.
- The goal of each scene must relate to the story question.
- Good scenes have important goals and strong conflict.
- The more painful the preceding disaster, the more fully developed the resulting [character reaction]
- Character viewpoint…should be changed only when necessary to enhance reader curiosity and suspense.
- Regardless of how long or short your chapters may be, always end them at a point where the reader can’t put the book down.
He says: most of us try to dodge or soften conflict in real life, and many of us find that even the writing of strong conflict is a bit painful…So some writers weaken their conflict portions without realizing it because they’re so “nice.”
I didn’t find Bickham’s book as useful as Swain’s, but I was glad the library makes it available to study.