|Beginning Writers:The Mystery of Writing|
|by Bev Oz|
Getting Past the Fear
When I announced my reading selection for this month to the rest of the Roses, I immediately received words of caution. "This book is long and technical, much like a college text book," they said, then added, "Don't be surprised if you don't finish it." With this warning hovering over me like a dark cloud, I approached Techniques of the Selling Writer, by Dwight Swain, with a high degree of trepidation. As luck would have it, I first cracked the book open while vacationing in France. My mind was as mellow as the good wine I drank there, and my anxiousness about the book's technical aspects diminished as I read. This book is very much like a college textbook in terms of its excellent information. However, it is written in such a user-friendly way I immediately forgot my fears and started to plow through, highlighting sentences and paragraphs like any good student. I confess, I didn't finish the book. Expect to read about the remaining portions next month. What I did read and learn I'll share with all of you.
Getting to Feelings
What is the number one job of a selling writer? Arousing heart-felt feelings within the readers. How does this happen? A writer must find a feeling and really feel it. Feel it enough to write about it. At the very least, get excited about the subject so the excitement is carried through to the reader. Enough said about feelings.
Much of the rest of what I read concentrated on technical aspects of writing. One of the first comments Swain writes is also one of the most prolific pieces of advice I've ever read. "You have to be willing to be very, very bad before you're ever to be good." How true. Getting on the path to good writing starts with finding the right words to use in your story. According to Swain, selection, arrangement, and description are important elements to consider when putting words to paper.
With selection, the author should consider the point of view of the character through which the story is being told. The character's POV should reflect the character's personality and what's important to the character. The arrangement of the words will also indicate what's important. Is there a cause to an effect, or an effect that lead to a cause? The vividness of the words (description) helps the reader capture through his senses the character's experience, making the story come alive.
Nouns and Verbs
Swain goes into great detail about how to pick just the right words for any given situation. He explains that nouns should be as specific, concrete, and definite as possible to be as vivid as possible. To demonstrate he gives the example of the nouns creature, animal, rhinoceros. Here we see nouns that go from vague to specific - a fuzzy concept to one which is perfectly clear. Verbs, on the other hand, should be active - should show something happening. Swain warns against using the verb 'to be', as this is a static state of being. Nothing is happening. An example of this is, "Sam was in the chair." (static and non-active), "Sam sat in the chair." (better), and "Sam slumped in the chair." (very active.) The worst 'to be' verb is 'had', which is past perfect tense. According to Swain, using the verb 'had' jars readers from the present action into past history. And, as we all know, jarring the reader at any time is a baaaad thing.
Patterns to Emotion
One very interesting piece I learned from my reading is what Swain calls "pattern of emotion". With pattern of emotion, writers move their story along by introducing motivating stimulus to their characters, then get the character's reaction. The character's reaction is written in three steps - feeling (the character's state of mind), action (the character's physical movement), and speech (what the character says as a result of all the above.) Using this technique makes for a smooth, logical flow for any story.
More to Go
As I mentioned before, I'm not quite finished with this book yet. Chances are I'll only get through another third of it before my next article is due. But, if the rest of the book teaches continues to teach me the way the first third has, I'll be a selling writer in no time at all.