A long, long time ago I mentioned that I had purchased three books on writing. This was the third. I just forgot about writing this review.
This book has affected my writing style probably more than anything else I’ve read.
This book not an easy to follow method to writing a novel, nor a “paint by numbers” system. It is a scholarly model your fiction can follow so that:
- Other people understand what you write
- Readers can’t stop reading what you write
There’s a ton of great stuff in here.
Let me just put one quick excerpt. The author has been talking about the “middle” portion of a work and how tension should be rising. Of course one way to increase tension is through action. Swain (the author) includes a letter that an editor (of various pulp magazines) wrote him. It’s kind of a “Pulp Writer’s Manifesto.”
Warning: Strong language ahead.
“…I give you, in conclusion, an editorial communique I once recieved from my old friend Howard Browne, who now makes fabulous sums of money in Hollywood, but who at the time was riding herd on a chain of pulp magazines.
“Herewith, Mr. Browne:”
I’ve got an assignment for you, keed. I want 25,000 words a month – one story – that is ACTION! The type of yarn, for instance, wherea group of people are marooned in, say, a hilltop castle, with a violent storm raging and all the bridges out and the electric power gone and the roof threatening to cave in and corpses falling down the stairs and hanging in the attic and boardscreaking under somebody’s weight in the dark (“Can that be the killer?”) and flashes of lightning illuminating the face of the murderer only the sonofabitch is wearing a mask that makes him look even more horrible, and finally the girl has been given into the safekeeping of the only person who is absolutely not the killer – only he turns out to be the killer, but he has taken the girl where no one else can get to save her and you damn well know he is raping her while everybody stands around helpless. Do these stories in the style Burroughs used to use; you know, take one set of characters and carry them along for a chapter, putting them at the end of the chapter in such a position that nothing can save them; then then take another set of characters, rescue them from their dilemma, carry them to a hell of a problem at the end of the chapter, then switch back to the first set of characters, rescue them from their deadly peril, carry them along to the end of the chapter where, once again, they are seemingly doomed; then rescue the second set of characters… and so on. Don’t give the reader a chance to breathe; keep him on the edge of his goddam chair all the way through. To hell with clues and smart dialogue and characterization; don’t worry about corn. GIVE ME PACE AND BANG BANG! Make me breathless, bud!
“What more can anyone say? What more could anyone want to?”
This probably isn’t a good book for casual writers or folks who aren’t good readers. Its a book with lots of information that requires you to think about what you’ve just read. It just isn’t worth the time unless you’re serious.
Lest there be any confusion, it’s not all about pulp writing. In fact, the above citation is rather unique in that way.
And it’s about time for me to start reading it again.