I probably haven’t read as many How To books on writing as I should, but I’ve read a few and I came across this one as a recommendation for further reading from another one. They talked very highly of it and of Dwight Swain, so I figured “Why the hell not?”
First thing’s first: This is the best book on writing I’ve ever read. Hands down. If I only had to rely on one book to help improve my writing, one book to recommend to fellow writers, one book to reach for whenever I was in doubt, it would be this one. No question about it.
It covers everything. Absolutely everything. Story, plot, character development, arcs, conflicts, marketing, blurbs, you name it. And it’s written in a very approachable way. There detailed explanations, followed by (usually several) examples, and – most importantly – it’s written in a way that’s easy to understand.
Also, I felt like Swain didn’t assume that you didn’t know what he was talking about. I often find it demotivating to read about stuff that I already know, wanting to skip ahead to where I can start learning, to whatever level I feel like I’m on. This wasn’t like that. Swain presented his methods and concepts as something we all knew we were doing – but then went on to explain in detail why you need to understand why you’re doing it, and what purpose they have.
It was a refreshing take, for sure, and I had several eye-opening moments where things just suddenly fell into place.
Oh, so that’s why everyone keeps saying to do this!
On the other hand – this book is a bit long, and I can imagine some readers might find the multiple examples a bit tedious and drawn out, and there are surely other books on writing that are quicker to the point. It’s also – I realized in hindsight – incredibly old (first published in 1965) and therefore slightly dated. (I probably should have picked up on it whenever Swain referenced the typewriter, but honestly I didn’t catch it until the very end.)
Still – best book on writing I’ve ever read. Highly recommended!