Book Review: Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain

October 22, 2010 | Book Reviews

Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight SwainTechniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain is one of those books every writer interested in creative write (aka fiction) really has to read. Unfortunately, due to the density of the prose, you really may not want to.

And there I guess my book review could stop, but it won’t, because well, we do have space to fill, word counts to make and all that jazz.


Techniques of the Selling Writer has a copyright of 1965. It is, ahem, almost as old as this reviewer and some might argue it has held up as well or better. Perhaps we should all take hope from the fact that it does have a copyright 50+ years in the past and is still considered required reading for most serious fiction authors.

The book business with electronic readers may have changed and be on the verge of changing even more, but good writing has not.

The book

On the first page, Dwight Swain tells you what you need to write a solid story, four simple, but hard to do things.

  • Group words into motivation-reaction units.
  • Group motivation-reaction units into scenes and sequels.
  • Group scenes and sequels into story pattern.
  • Create the kind of characters that give a story life.

These aren’t necessarily in the order my brain works, but this definitely covers the big points to writing a book and basic as they are, they are also concepts many beginning writers take time to master and even understand.


Now, as I alluded to at the beginning of this book review, Swain’s voice and thus his prose is a tad dense. This can be particularly challenging for the readers who need to learn his concepts the most. The first time I attempted to read Techniques of the Selling Writer I found myself going back and reading, and re-reading and putting the book down still not sure what I had read any of those times.

I quite honestly set the book aside as not-for-me. However, Swain’s information kept popping up, in other writing books, on writing blogs (like this) and at workshops. And at some point, I realized I couldn’t avoid it any longer. I had to read Techniques of The Selling Writer for myself. And, funny thing, that time it all made sense; it clicked.

And, writers, there is a lot of good and very important information in this book. In fact, it is the type of writing book you can pick up after your first book or your tenth and still learn or be reminded of some little helpful tidbit that makes you slap your head at your own stupidity.

That, in my opinion, is what really makes it a great book.

Who should read this book:

Everyone interested in creative writing.

Don’t Miss Parts:

Scene/Sequel, Motivation-Reaction Units,

Would Change if I Could:

Dense prose that is hard to digest in one pass.


5 out of 5, because like spinach it is too darn good for you to pass up.

FTC Disclaimer: Unless otherwise stated all books/products reviewed at The How to Write Shop were purchased by the reviewer or The How to Write Shop.



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