How fiction writers benefit from swipe files

What is a swipe file?

Swipe files are well known in the copywriting business. When you come across a really good piece of copy, you save it to your swipe file. Then, when you are stuck for ideas, you have some inspiring writing to check out. So, want to know how fiction writers benefit from swipe files?

Inspiration, not plagiarism

To dig deeper into the copywriting example, the aim is clearly not to plagiarise. Swipe files are positively encouraged in the copywriting world. All writers have fallow periods when it comes to inspiration and original ideas. Examples of how to do it well excite and inspire. They can release us from writer’s block. They remind us of why we write in the first place.

Swipe files help all writers

So, how does a swipe file help a fiction writer? Or a poet, for that matter? The key is to take note of writing that particularly inspires you.

For example, there are passages in The Great Gatsby that I’d put in my swipe file. It could be the opening of chapter three when Nick attends his first party at Gatsby’s house. Or it could be the fabulous final page or so of the book.

Your swipe file could include inspirational prose, or even examples of technical mastery. Perhaps you were blown away by a horror short story and the way the author built suspense. Maybe it was a science fiction story that showed how to mix big ideas with credible worldbuilding and characterisation. Or it could be an erotic short story that showed how to write sex scenes effectively and without the usual cliches.

Likewise, there might be some poetry that inspires you. It could be the rhythm of the language, the imagery, or something else.

What to do with your swipes

There are some days when you’ve run out of ideas. Or you’re suffering from imposter syndrome. Or maybe you’ve run into a technical problem – your sex scenes suck big time. Too much worldbuilding at the beginning of a short story? How do you introduce your reader to your Martian colony in a way that is both fast and credible? If it’s a short story, you have even less time and space to waste on details. Every word counts.

This is why short story swipe files are particularly great. But you could just save a single scene that blew you away with its brilliance. A combat scene that was well-choreographed, a great dialogue scene that revealed character or plot. A great description of location or character that was vibrant rather than boring.

Keeping examples in your swipe file allows you to pull them out and study them when you run into a problem. Feel your dialogue is dull and inspiring? What about those fabulous dialogue scenes you saved from Novels X and Y. Study them, get inspired. It’s not about copying.

Where to store your swipe file?

Swipe files can be kept on a computer or stored in a box file on your shelf. You might have both, for digital files and physical copy cut from a newspaper or magazine.

If you have a physical book collection, you could keep one shelf as your ‘swipe shelf’. Where you store the most inspirational material, including stories you’ve printed off or photocopied. You could keep these in a box file.

Swipe files are fuel for ideas

Whether it’s a technical issue you’re struggling with or just general inspiration, swipe files are a great resource. If you want to get into science fiction, you could start saving your favourite SF short stories and explore what it is you admire about them. Check out the premise – it could be something big, or even a beautifully simple idea.

Also, don’t forget non-fiction. An informative article on the future colonisation of Mars? Save it. It might take you a while to get around to referring to some of your swipes, but the material will be there when you finally need that dose of inspiration.

And that’s how fiction writers benefit from swipe files!