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  1. #31
    Of course, this does mean that any poor writer who has been persuaded to either read and follow Swain's approach or has been guided by advice from anyone who champions Swain's approach has significantly less chance of being published than if they'd gone their own way, found their own voice and allowed their creativity to develop.
    Were that true, people who get a degree in literature or commercial fiction would stand less of a chance of publication than Joe Shmoe who sits down at the keyboard and says, "I think I'll write a novel." But that doesn't happen, based on the real world. Were it a useful method we would have people on this and other writing sites announcing, weekly, that they just sold a novel. But do they? No. Were it a useful method the top writers on the NYT best selling list would not, year after year be people who have training and mentoring in writing.

    Publishers are not writers. They're business people. And acquiring editors aren't writers, either. They judge the finished product for market suitability. They don't analyze the writing to see if the author is using M/R Units, or scene goals. They just look at it as a consumer and ask themselves if, "Our readers will like this." It's up to the writer to structure the writing to make it readable, and have a strong viewpoint—which it won't have if the writer, like most of us when we leave our school days, thinks viewpoint is a matter of which personal pronouns we use. Publishers focus on style, not the nuts and bolts issues found in the book we're discussing Those they expect you to already know before you begin the story being queried.

    Jim Butcher, a very popular sci-fi and fantasy writerhas this to say about becoming a success. On reading it you might be tempted to say that he achieved success by talking to publishers. I don't dispute that. But near the beginning of the article, he talks about finally learning enough craft to write decently. That matters a great deal because he learned that craft while working on a commercial fiction degree at Oklahoma University, where Dwight Swain taught.
    People are free to believe what they want about Swain and his thinking, but to foist it upon others is both unfair and unacceptable.
    Just as unfair as you demanding it be rejected because you don't like it.

    But forget that, it's irrelevant. Remember the title of this thread. We're talking about Swain's book. And you've not said one word about where you believe he's wrong. You reject it on the basis of saying you talked to unnamed publishers about writing books in general. Why not talk about the actual text, and what Swain recommends.

    For example, viewpoint. Here's a section where Swain talks about presenting a scene in the protagonist's viewpoint, something the majority of hopeful writes get wrong.
    By way of illustration, let’s go back to our scene at the mountain lake. Our focal character lies high on a rocky, wooded slope with a pair of binoculars. His purpose is to rescue an abused child whom he believes to be a prisoner in the camp below. The effect we seek to achieve at the moment is one that will excite such intense feelings of compassion and outrage in our focal character that he’ll be blinded to everything except the absolute and urgent necessity of going ahead with the rescue, regardless of personal peril.
    .....Note, now, how sharply this choice of effect limits us; how strongly it turns us away from most of the potential motivating stimuli laid out below. Meadow, bears, trout, truck, landscape—all must be abandoned, because they offer little chance for the specific kind of stimulus we need: a goad to compassion and to outrage.
    .....Is there anything that offers more potential? Of course: the child herself—the little blonde girl peering from the tent. She’ll be our motivating stimulus.
    .....How to highlight the point we want to make? —Well, suppose the child’s been beaten . . . punished for trying to run away, perhaps. Bring her up big in the binoculars, all anguished, tear-streaked face. And, since kids do cry for a variety of reasons and even our focal character knows it, maybe we should black one of her eyes—an ugly, swollen bruise, rich with blues and purples.
    .....Is the child sucking a thumb or a lollipop? Blowing her nose? Playing with a puppy? No. All such are extraneous, introduce possibly conflicting notes, and thus shatter the unity of the effect. So, we’ll avoid them.
    .....On the other hand, perhaps it would be worth while to give her a rag doll to clutch to her ragged breast. A broken rag doll with the stuffing coming out, to draw a nasty parallel with her own condition and thus strengthen unity of effect.
    .....Then, on to description, phrased in terms to reflect your focal character’s attitudes, his mood. And here we come to an important point, already stated but worth beating on a bit.
    .....For all we know, this child is a brat, a hateful little monster. She received her black eye when she climbed to the roof of one of the camping trailers in direct defiance of her mother’s orders, then lost her balance and fell. In fact, she’d probably have fractured her stupid skull if she hadn’t landed on another youngster, breaking his arm. That’s why the pickup truck is bouncing along the road; the father had to take the other child to town to get the fracture set. Meanwhile, Little Miss Noxious has succeeded in floundering into the lake. It was the third time, and the rags she now wears are the only clothes her distracted maternal parent can find for her. Also, flailing in the water, the dear child lost the handsome new ten-dollar doll her father bought her for her birthday. So the rag doll is one she stole from the little girl of a poverty-stricken family down the line.
    .....Now all the above and more may be true. However, for our purposes here, the important thing is that the focal character doesn’t see it that way . . . and always, we describe in terms of his state of affairs and state of mind. So though our little darling be Miss Lucrezia Borgia, Jr., our story will present her with strong overtones of Little Eva.
    .....So how does the focal character see her, maybe?
    .....
    .....Agnes’ face came into focus, then. The blonde hair was matted, the worn plaid dress in rags. She’d been crying too, apparently, for there were tear-streaks on her grime-smudged cheeks. Dark circles rimmed the great, frightened, little-girl eyes, and when she turned her head to the left a fraction, a bruise came into view, all ugly blues and purples, swelling shut the lids, as if she were a grown man slugged in a barroom brawl.
    .....Miller lay very still, his knuckles white on the glasses. . . .
    .....
    .....A motivating stimulus, and the start of the focal character’s reaction. One approach, out of an infinity of possible approaches. Each of us would do it differently—differently each minute, even—for each of us can only be himself as he is at this moment. Are all motivating stimuli this lengthily or this tightly drawn?
    .....Of course not; no more than all shots in a movie are close-ups. Thus, the scene on the lake might begin:
    There's more, but this is a dfair usage sample, only. Notice that he gives no rules, demands no format or strictures. He only talks about issues that will influence both the reader's and the protagonist'sd emotions. Do you disagree, and favor a more external observer's description of a scene than presenting what matters to the protagonist? And if so, why? Let's discuss Swain's book, or at least a specific book, not writing books in general.
    Jay Greenstein
    My articles on writing.
    The goal isn't to tell the reader that the protagonist is terrified, it's to terrorize our reader.

  2. #32
    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Greenstein View Post
    Were that true, people who get a degree in literature or commercial fiction would stand less of a chance of publication than Joe Shmoe who sits down at the keyboard and says, "I think I'll write a novel."
    Never be so arrogant as to dismiss those without degrees in literature as 'Joe Shmoe'. It's disrespectful.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Greenstein View Post
    Publishers are not writers. They're business people. And acquiring editors aren't writers, either. They judge the finished product for market suitability. They don't analyze the writing to see if the author is using M/R Units, or scene goals. They just look at it as a consumer and ask themselves if, "Our readers will like this." Publishers focus on style, not the nuts and bolts issues found in the book we're discussing Those they expect you to already know before you begin the story being queried.
    Again, you're being a bit disrespectful to publishers here. Successful publishers have the ability to recognise whether a structure is original and creative or hackneyed and from one of the many 'better writing methods' out there. If I was looking for writers to deliver something creative and exciting, I wouldn't pick ones that were dependent upon a linear and formulaic approach. I'd prefer ones that thought for themselves! Also, you make an assumption that publishers, agents and editors aren't writers. Some are, some aren't.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Greenstein View Post
    Jim Butcher, a very popular sci-fi and fantasy writerhas this to say about becoming a success. On reading it you might be tempted to say that he achieved success by talking to publishers. I don't dispute that. But near the beginning of the article, he talks about finally learning enough craft to write decently. That matters a great deal because he learned that craft while working on a commercial fiction degree at Oklahoma University, where Dwight Swain taught.Just as unfair as you demanding it be rejected because you don't like it.
    The linked text doesn't mention Swain, following linear methodology or reading blogs about how to write; not once. It does however underline the importance of tenacity. That aside, for someone who pontificates about the reader you clearly didn't read what I wrote, preferring to makes assumptions about it. I did not demand Swain's approach be rejected, but you read that because it serves your purpose to misquote. I have no personal beef with you nor will I shy away from a debate with anyone, but if they are going to use assumptions about what I said rather than reading the actual words, I can't see it progressing.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Greenstein View Post
    But forget that, it's irrelevant. Remember the title of this thread.
    Swain

    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Greenstein View Post
    We're talking about Swain's book. And you've not said one word about where you believe he's wrong. You reject it on the basis of saying you talked to unnamed publishers about writing books in general. Why not talk about the actual text, and what Swain recommends.
    I did talk about it in an earlier post. As a result of this debate I talked to other people in publishing, the ones whose requirements both Swain and yourself claim to understand, and found your assertations to be incorrect. For the benefit of other writers on WF I passed on that information in a post that was clearly marked as an 'aside' to the main thread. I did so because the point of the main thread is that Swain's approach should be advised 'sometimes' and not 'always'. Therefore it was on-topic. Your dislike of a different point of view is not enough for me to not post.

    Please do not presume to pick me up on my contribution to threads. You are just another member here; some might call you another Joe Shmoe, to use your vernacular, but I wouldn't be so disrespectful.

  3. #33
    I think any argument based on "the vast majority of Writer-Type-X has trouble getting published" needs to acknowledge that the vast majority of every type of writer has trouble getting published. There are thousands of new graduates of MFA and other writing programs each year... very few of them successfully publish. Add in the thousands of writers who closely study all the how-to books, Swain or otherwise, each year. Very few of them successfully publish. Do we have a breakdown of what proportion of the much-vaunted 99.9% of submissions that are rejected come from graduates of writing programs and/or how-to books?

    I accept that there are some writers out there who benefit from how-to books. I don't understand why, but I believe them when they say they do.

    But how-to books, Swain or otherwise, and/or formal writing education are absolutely not essential for all writers. They may even be detrimental for some writers.

    We're all coming at writing from different places, with different strengths and weaknesses and interests. Of course we're all going to have to take different paths to get to our goals. Swain and his how-to brethren are just one path.
    booklives.com (work in progress!)

  4. #34
    So, there is a scene goal, there is conflict, then there is failure. But, you are saying, I hope intentionally, that the failure need not be to the scene goal.

    In fact, the scene goal can be replaced. Other scene goals can be added. The conflict can be to the other goals.

    It took me a long time to understand that. And I note for others that you said the proper name was short-term scene goal, but that's too long.

    So, "We're sitting in McDonalds." could be a scene goal, though Bickham says I should state the goal ("We want to stop being hungry", which is too obvious to me).

    That would make Swain/Bickham/that website a lot more flexible than I was imagining. Your chapter 1 still has a wimpy failure which does not lead to the goal of the next scene. What is the first scene goal for the next scene.?Doesn't it have a lot of conflict before any goal is stated?

    ***

    The more you say your two chapters fit Swain, the more I think that most everything fits Swain. It seems, from your examples, that an author with no conflict would not fit Swain, and an author with constant quick success would not. Are there any other possibilities?

  5. #35
    Again, you're being a bit disrespectful to publishers here
    In what way? You said you met with "publishers," at that bar. And publishers are business people, whose business is to sell stories. They aren't writers, and in general not editors, either. Remember, we're talking real publishers, who invest their own money into bringing a given book to market. Out of curiosity, though, I would be interested in knowing which convention it was, though, and the name of the publishers in the group.

    That aside, if you really meant to say, acquiring editors who work for a publisher, their education doesn't include training in writing. They're usually English Majors who worked their way up to their position at a publishing house.
    The linked text doesn't mention Swain, following linear methodology or reading blogs about how to write; not once.
    Nor did you mention him, only the generic "books on writing" The text I linked to simply illustrated that a highly popular writer felt it necessary to acquire the craft of the writer, and that he acquired that education at a university that not only espouses the methods in Swain's books, he taught them there. So because you're, in effect, recommending that people not go to that school, it seems reasonable to offer a rebuttal by someone who went there.

    And of course, there's also people like Jerry Pournell. He does agree with you—as do I—that most books on writing are lousy. I've not argued that point. In fact, it's why I so often suggest specific authors. But...we're not discussing books on writing, we're discussing one of two books, written by one person, Professor Dwight Swain. And being specific, Jerry Pourelle, a past president of the SFWA and a four times NYT best seller (who is one of over 200 people who wrote glowing reviews for the book under discussion) says
    "I have little use for books on how to write, but Dwight Swaine's Techniques is an exception. I don't know anyone in my racket who can't benefit from at least one of the chapters in this work. It has been around a long time because it talks about permanent factors.

    I unhesitatingly recommend this book to anyone who wants to make a living at writing.
    Kind of hard to dismiss that, I think. After all, the man agrees with you.
    During an evening bar session with a number of publishers I raised a question about the value of 'how to write' books.
    Not really. "How to write' books" is a pretty broad subject, and unrelated to the subject of this thread. So it appears that, per yourself: you asked people—unidentified as to function with their company—at an unidentified "convention" about the generic, "books on writing," and are applying responses to that general comment to one specific book. I think may be applying a broad comment to too narrow an area.

    I get it. You don't like Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer. That's pretty obvious. But fair is fair. I gave you a specific example from that book and asked you if you disagreed, and why. That would be discussing the methodology, not the man. After all, if the subject of the thread is one suggested approach to writing, and you disapprove, why not present the opposing view of how to handle that scene? Why not get the areas you do agree with out of the way and discuss those you don't. Perhaps we might discuss an area of the book you disagree with, Scene and sequel; M/R Units; Conflict and how to build it; Fiction Strategy, etc., and get a variety of viewpoints. Let's discuss where you think Swain, and those who recommend the same kind of approach are inaccurate.

    That sounds like a lot more fun than, "Books on writing are bad...No they're not...yes they are," ad nausium.
    Jay Greenstein
    My articles on writing.
    The goal isn't to tell the reader that the protagonist is terrified, it's to terrorize our reader.

  6. #36
    Do we have a breakdown of what proportion of the much-vaunted 99.9% of submissions that are rejected come from graduates of writing programs and/or how-to books?
    No specifics, since the publishers don't keep that data. But given that the publishers say they view 75% of what's received as unreadable, I would doubt they're the ones from people who have taken meaningful steps toward acquiring knowledge through schooling, conferences, and study. Remember, we pretty much universally leave high school believing that writing is writing, and that we have that part taken care of. So why would the average hopeful writer even seek out texts on writing?

    And that's born out by the manuscripts I received. At least 75% were written in the style we learn in school, author-centric and fact-based. The voice of an invisible narrator explained the story to the reader. They were equally divided between what amounted to a very detailed book report and a transcription of the author telling the story aloud.

    Of the rest, they showed varying degrees of knowledge, but as a group, were heavily weighted toward the bottom 75%. And I can't blame them. Who's to tell us that the goal of fiction—to entertain—can't be achieved with report and essay-writing techniques we're given? Not the teachers, who learn their writing skills in the same classrooms. Not their classmates. And based on the writing, things like the structure of a scene on the page aren't something you simply discover by sitting at the keyboard, or reading fiction. After writing six (unsold) novels, I thought I'd improved dramatically. And to an extent, that was true, in areas other than structural. But as I learned after a professional evaluation, I had not the proverbial snowball in hell's chance of keeping an acquiring editor reading to the end of the first page. All I'd managed to do was improve my nonfiction writing skills.

    Learning that my characters were cardboard, that I was thinking/writing cinematically, that their behavior was plot and pop-psychology driven was devastating—so much so that I don't want anyone else to have to go through the same thing. The simple fact is that we cannot use the approach we learned in school for fiction because its objective is to inform, not entertain. But, it took us twelve years or more to achieve the level of knowledge we leave school with. Based on that, is reasonable to assume that we can discover and perfect, on our own, a set of skills of equal complexity?

    I didn't save it, and really wish I did: Tor used to have a little message as part of their submissions page. In it, they pointed out that the odds of getting published do not represent a lottery, and if you take no steps to become knowledgeable in how to write for publication the actual odds of rejection are 100%. On the other hand, if you do learn, and perfect the skills needed, the odds are pretty good that you will be published. And to my mind, that matters more then statistics on rejection. Especially given that 86.7% of statistics are made up on the spot.
    Jay Greenstein
    My articles on writing.
    The goal isn't to tell the reader that the protagonist is terrified, it's to terrorize our reader.

  7. #37
    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Greenstein View Post
    And to my mind, that matters more then statistics on rejection. Especially given that 86.7% of statistics are made up on the spot.
    So does this mean you'll quit with the 99.9% stat?
    booklives.com (work in progress!)

  8. #38
    So, there is a scene goal, there is conflict, then there is failure. But, you are saying, I hope intentionally, that the failure need not be to the scene goal.
    Absolutely. The scene-goal is what's driving the protagonist in the moment that character calls now. So in fast-food example you give, assume that while she's eating, her short term goal is to finish lunch and head for someplace she absolutely has to be.

    Why that matters is simple, but not obvious. Assume we're just following the character around and recording what happens to them, relying on the idea that this is an interesting person, doing interesting things. So after lunch, and perhaps conversation, she starts out, but on the way, she meets a friend who says, "I really need your help," and outlines their problem. Without knowing her goal we would accept the interruption without anything but curiosity. But view the same event with the knowledge of how important her goal is to her and our reaction is very different, because now, we take her needs and imperatives into account as we decide what she should do next were we at the controls. So now, we have an emotional reaction to the event that matches hers.

    Look at it this way: Assume that someone comes running into the room and says, "Did you hear? Someone was hit by a car at the corner?" Compare your emotional reaction that, and how you would react were it to be, "Did you hear? Your mother was hit by a car at the corner?" Emotional involvement makes huge difference in the way we perceive events. So the more involved in the scene we can make the reader feel...
    That would make Swain/Bickham/that website a lot more flexible than I was imagining. Your chapter 1 still has a wimpy failure which does not lead to the goal of the next scene. What is the first scene goal for the next scene.?
    In chapter two we have the sequel to scene one, where she thinks back over what she did. I looked back at the story (which I should have done before this...sorry). The sequel for scene one takes place at the end of cjghapter one, when she thinks back over what happened and decides that the man she met would be better suited to the woman who dropped the card, because she had little going for her that a man would want.

    Part of her problem is that she has a poor self image, because she used to be heavy, and felt worthless, and hasn't yet realized that with her changes in lifestyle and diet, she has become a beautiful woman. So her decision in chapter one, that she isn't worthy of the man, drives her mood as she enters chapter two, which begins with her conflict with mom over having given the card to the man, an argument she can't win. Her goal going in is to share a little gossip and vent her frustration. Again, she knows emotional defeat because her mother is not only unreasonable, she's so damned frustrating that Delia has a new background goal, a subplot, that of getting out of her mothers house and out from under her thumb.

    Her short term goal after that, is to decompress (the scene's sequel) by working on a romance novel (I found that ifunny). Her goal is changed when Mom tells her that the woman she met is dead, to one of learning if the Gail Morton mentioned on the news as dying in a fall is the woman she met in the snow. And that holds till she discovers the man she met, at the funeral, which changes her goal to one of getting away before he murders her, too.
    Jay Greenstein
    My articles on writing.
    The goal isn't to tell the reader that the protagonist is terrified, it's to terrorize our reader.

  9. #39
    What about this? The book I was reading last night begins with a horrific (unmarked) prologue. Chapter 2 switches to something more ordinary. The horrific prologue hooked me and I wanted to read to find out what would happen. So I think the prologue was to get me through the slower start.

    But, it wasn't rising tension. The prologue made Chapter 2 weaker, I think. (It was harder to care about a woman ending an affair when someone else's life was being completely ruined.) And if the author had really succeeded, I wouldn't be paying good attention to Chapter 2, I would be hurrying to the continuation of the prologue.

    So is that using tension and goal/conflict to keep me reading, but actually making the story worse?

  10. #40
    Dunno. Link to it and I'll take a look. One thing to look at, though, is its sales ranking and the comments readers post.
    Jay Greenstein
    My articles on writing.
    The goal isn't to tell the reader that the protagonist is terrified, it's to terrorize our reader.

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