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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for writers
After reading Stein's invaluable STEIN ON WRITING, I thought I'd never need another book on writing. But HOW TO GROW A NOVEL is an outstanding companion volume for fiction writers of any level. He doesn't just inspire but offers practical guidelines, craft points, and solutions. And the chapters on what really goes on in publishing are refreshing in their candor.
Published on January 12, 2000 by An aspiring writer

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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars a mixed bag
Bottom line: better get Stein's other book.

This one is long on personal stories and short on advice. Do we really need to hear all about Stein's experience with Jimmy Hoffa just to learn that a book written in voice is more lively than one written in impersonal prose? Anyone who has reached the level that they are considering reading this book probably knows...
Published on August 30, 2004 by bookloversfriend


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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for writers, January 12, 2000
After reading Stein's invaluable STEIN ON WRITING, I thought I'd never need another book on writing. But HOW TO GROW A NOVEL is an outstanding companion volume for fiction writers of any level. He doesn't just inspire but offers practical guidelines, craft points, and solutions. And the chapters on what really goes on in publishing are refreshing in their candor.
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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to be a successful novelist, September 5, 2000
Users of the amazon book review system should be cautioned. A lot of the book reviews written by readers are fairly accurate, however should you encounter a review that is quite negatively biased against the author, the reviewer can be seriously wrong. Such was my experience of one reviewers valuation of Sol Stein. I dont usually buy hardbacks. But I feel that the book was worth every penny. The book is not a nuts and bolts how to manuel, but more about the state of getting a book published, in todays world, period. Sol does touch on the major "stupidities" of what he has seen in the creation of a novel, but there are other books you should read first,if you are a beginner. If you understand that it isn't even about how talented you are, but rather,the drastic changes in the book publishing business, and that the powers that be have changed, and not for the better. You then will understand that first of all, you better know your craft, and then, how to go about sending your "child" out on the cruel waters of publishing. I don't care what the reviewer wrote with respect to "Stein on Writing", there is a a lot of information in THIS book anyway, and I feel that the information therein has pushed me forward at least five years closer to my own goals. This guy knows what he's talking about.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Showing not telling, January 30, 2000
By 
Michael Shapiro (Chappaqua, New York) - See all my reviews
I am a composer and published author. What Rimsky-Korsakov did for Orchestration, Sol Stein has done for writing, first in Stein on Writing and now with How to Grow a Novel. Stein practices what he teaches: his book shows writers how to structure their fiction and orchestrate every expressive element. A worthy sequel to his classic text and a must read practical guide to the perplexed novice or the experienced pro.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Many hats -- a LOT of help, July 21, 2002
Sol Stein is a gentleman of many hats. Wearing his writing hat, he has published bestselling novels like THE HUSBAND and THE MAGICIAN and OTHER PEOPLE as well as books and computer software on the craft of writing. He has tipped his editing hat to such prominent authors as James Baldwin, Elia Kazan and Jack Higgins. He has sported his teaching hat at Columbia, Iowa and the University of California at Irvine. Sol Stein is a man who knows what he's talking about when he talks about writing,

In HOW TO GROW A NOVEL, Stein presents some illuminating information for the fiction author. He intends to "write a book in which I could deal with the most important recurrent problems in the same depth as I would in an extended meeting with an individual author." And so he does.

The book is divided into two sections: The Responsibilities of the Writer and The Responsibilities of the Publisher. The appendix has two additional sections under the label of Practical Matters: The Little Things that Damage the Writer's Authority (on the use of dialect, on binding manuscript pages, for example, and how long your book should be) and Where Writers Get Help (in this chapter he promotes his own books and computer programs, but he does mention others).

In Responsibilities of the Writer, Stein says that the reader of fiction is looking for "an experience different from his or her everyday experiences in life." It's not that the reader doesn't welcome insight and information, but it's the experience of the story that keeps him or her glued to the page. Stein's objective "is to help novelists perfect their skill in making the reader turn pages, to forget that he is reading, to live among characters that once resided only in the writer's head and now seem true and memorable to strangers."

The time to consider the reader's experience - that is, the effect that each scene sequence will have on the reader -- is not when you are writing a book but when you are planning it. In a series of questions and answers he demonstrates just how to do that using examples from his own work and from works he has edited.

Stein discusses the necessity for conflict and demonstrates that conflict may not necessarily be violent, but it is the very essence of dramatic action. In the manuscripts he sees, he writes, "the fault is seldom too much conflict." So he goes on to show just how to create an adversarial sense in order to keep the reader on edge of expectation.

Another responsibility of the writer is to capture the reader, to create a "love at first sight" kind of experience. The beginning must grab her, glue her to the page and the rest of the book must not let go until the very end. The use of surprise, the building of tension, the use of detail to clarify and intensify, twisting a plot point into something else - he illustrates each suggestion with an example from his own work or something he has edited.

Stein emphasizes the importance of building realistic characters, yet his approach is a little different. One suggestion he makes: If you are struggling with a flat character, he says, take a look in his pocket (or, presumably, her purse). Find something that would surprise him/her greatly. Then answer the questions he poses.

Finding plots, creating dialogue, the best point of view, writing with honesty and focus - all of these are areas where the writer has a responsibility to the reader and Stein gives new insight into how to achieve them in fiction. He attacks specifics in revision. Removing redundancies and author intrusion, eliminating melodrama and extra words and phrases, replacing cliché "beats" with small, appropriate actions, changing events that are "told" into active scenes are just some of the problems he illustrates.
"The function of an editor," he writes, "is to help a writer achieve the writer's intentions." The many suggestions and exercises in this book should do exactly that, whether his reader is a published author or novice writer. It's stunning to discover that the single most common mistake that Stein has seen, "including the work of professionals," is words, sentences and paragraphs out of order.
For the nonfiction writer there's an entire chapter on "Fundamentals for Emigrants from Nonfiction" that will shortcut a long road that might otherwise by a trial-and-error one full of pitfalls. The 70 or so tips certainly shortcut the process of revising fiction.
I must admit that I have avoided Sol Stein's works because of a past experience with his crass commercialism in promoting his software for writers. However I can say, without reservation, that HOW TO GROW A NOVEL is a truly useful and enlightening book for every writer, whatever her level of experience.
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars a mixed bag, August 30, 2004
By 
This review is from: How to Grow a Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them (Paperback)
Bottom line: better get Stein's other book.

This one is long on personal stories and short on advice. Do we really need to hear all about Stein's experience with Jimmy Hoffa just to learn that a book written in voice is more lively than one written in impersonal prose? Anyone who has reached the level that they are considering reading this book probably knows that already. In any case, what is needed is HOW to write in a voice, not the vanilla advice to do so.

Of course, if you have plenty of money and plenty of time, there are probably a few tidbits in this book that may be new to you. And if you are a beginner, you'll of course benefit from hearing the ABCs expounded by this confident pro.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How to Grow a Novel, February 29, 2000
I am a retired building contractor - wannabe writer. Sol Stein has proven once again he is a master builder of writing. From WritePro computer programs, to Stein on Writing, and now, How to Grow a Novel, Stein provides the tools wannabe and experienced writers need to build a solid writing foundation. How to Grow a Novel is full of help, from how to evoke emotion in a reader, to finding the best writers' conferences. Chapter Thirteen, Revision as Opportunity-and Danger was especially useful, as I revisited my manuscript. Sol Stein is my Bob Vila of writing...
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53 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yet another sharp arrow for your literary quiver, July 11, 2000
Coming right on the heels of Stein's "Stein on Writing", I was apprehensive that "How to Grow a Novel" might be a rehash of it. With the former seeming to be such a full treatment of both fiction and nonfiction, what more could Stein have to say?
A lot. I will offer one example. Chapter two of "How to Grow a Novel" focuses on conflict. He reminds us that conflict need not be a knock-down-drag-out fight. He writes, "Many people ... bristle at the term `conflict' because of memories and overtones, and so I propose another term for their consideration, `adversarial... The conflict is often verbal, not high drama, sometimes even mundane."
While reading Stein's words on conflict, I was reminded of a scene in "Emma" by Jane Austen that so clearly demonstrates low-key, verbal conflict.
Emma's governess, who has evolved into the dearest friend Emma has in the world, has married and gone. The conflict within Emma over the loss of Miss Taylor, and shared by her father ("Poor Miss Taylor," he said at their first dinner without her, "What a pity it is that Mr. Weston ever thought of her!") has been exposed in detail when an intimate friend of the family drops in. Mr. Knightly is a man some 18 years older than 21-year-old Emma and "one of the few people who could see faults in Emma Woodhouse, and the only one who ever told her of them."
The absent Miss Taylor is, of course, on their minds and tongues. Mr. Knightly observes, "Every friend of Miss Taylor must be glad to have her so happily married."
"And you have forgotten one matter of joy to me," said Emma, "and a very considerable one -- that I made the match myself. I made the match, you know, four years ago; and to have it take place, and be proved in the right . . . And after such a success, you know! Everybody said that Mr. Weston would never marry again."
Mr. Knightly shook his head at her. "I do not understand what you mean by `success,' Success supposes endeavor. Your time has been properly and delicately spent, if you have been endeavoring for the last fours to bring about this marriage. A worthy employment for a young lady's mind! But if, which I rather imagine, your making the match, as you call it, means only your planning it, your saying to yourself one idle day, `I think it would be a very good thing for Miss Taylor if Mr. Weston were to marry her,' and saying it again to yourself every now and then afterwards -- why do you talk of success? Where is your merit? What are you proud of? You made a lucky guess; and THAT is all that can be said."
After more debate, Emma said, "And as to my poor word `success,' which you quarrel with, I do not know that I am so entirely without claim to it. You have drawn two pretty pictures; but I think there may be a third -- something between the do-nothing and the do-all. If I had not promoted Mr. Weston's visits here, and given many little encouragements, and smoothed many little matters, it might not have come to anything after all."
Mr. Knightly yields not an inch, saying, "A straightforward, open-hearted man like Mr. Weston, and a rational, unaffected woman like Miss Taylor may be safely left to manage their own concerns. You are more likely to have done harm to yourself, than good to them, by interference."
This is conflict indeed, escalating conflict, even if it is kept on a genteel level. One can feel Emma's pulse rising, sense Mr. Knightly's deepening smugness, while through it all the narrator's voice is almost silent. While few writers have wielded their literary rapiers as deftly as Jane Austen, her demonstrations of conflict are what I believe Stein wants us to strive for, when appropriate.
I feel certain that Stein has never once implied that he discovered the Rosetta stone of writing. His guidance is based on techniques so fundamental that Jane Austen applied them 180 years ago, Shakespeare more than 200 years sooner yet. Those of us who write, much like other craftsmen, must constantly hone our skills, discovering and re-discovering techniques as old as the hills, if we are to improve them. In both of his books, Mr. Stein provides us with valuable, thought-provoking "discoveries."
I don't see how anyone can learn to cook by reading cookbooks yet not attempting the dishes described. Similarly, it seems that reading about writing and storing the information away in one's head for future use would be of little use. Fortunately for me, I'm never without a work in progress. Currently it's a near-finished novel that has given me a lot of trouble -- numerous scenes required "fixing." Every one of the problem areas I'm aware of is in my mind being worried over from time to time. As I read Stein's books, solutions to problems frequently pop out at me -- I see what is at the heart of this problem, that one. I go to work on the one at hand and often it is fixed.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars There's Many Better Books Than This, July 17, 2009
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This review is from: How to Grow a Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them (Paperback)
The best thing about this book is it comes across as breezy, as sitting down with an experienced pro on his backyard patio for advice. And Stein definitely has a wealth of experience to draw on. The thing is, he's enjoying hearing himself talk more than imparting much useful information.

The book starts off slow, and even when you get to the chapter on editing, it's more about what a great editor he is. For instance, Stein writes that he told an author to take out "self-conscious asides," "adjectives that needed deletion," "melodrama," and "author intrusions," which is all great, but he doesn't give examples of any of them. It's like telling someone to take out the bad fuses without showing what they look like or how it all looks after.

Again, he writes, "The early part of the book contained a lot of unnecessary words that softened the pace. When they were later removed, the pace quickened." Great. But again, no examples of what these words were or how to find them in our own writing.

Instead, it's all "I suggested," "I pointed out," and "I recommended," all showing how smart he is and leaving us with nothing. He even says, "'Sprinting' had to be replaced by a more accurate word," and doesn't even tell us what it was.

Truth is, one thing this book could've used is editing. "First, let's understand what `voice' means. The term is defined in the glossary at the back of this book. Let me spare you the trouble of leaving this page by repeating the definition here." If he wanted to spare us, he'd cut all of that and start at the next line: "The author's voice is..."

In another part he says, "You may recall my formula: one plus one equals a half." He actually doesn't get to it for another six pages, and even though it's to "remind writers that conveying the same matter more than once in different words diminishes the effect of what is said," he goes against his own formula and does just that. (Actually he uses the exact same words, which is even worse.)

Or try this: "We crawl before we walk. When I first learned to walk, I couldn't turn around and change my direction without falling. When I was blocked by a wall or furniture, I'm told, I sat down, turned around while sitting, then got up and walked some more. It was not very efficient, nor greatly experimental, but it got me where I was going." He then says, "The writer needs to build on his abilities and strengths before trying fancy maneuvers," and that's all he needed to say. The rest is just being full of himself.

In the chapter on Dialogue, he spends a full page and a half explaining what baseball is - how it's played and what countries it's played in - before describing types of dialogue as a curveball or a sinker. He even follows this with a half page explaining Ping-Pong.

To be sure, every so often he offers a great phrase or insight, like how we've been "raised to communicate, not to evoke," and "In dialogue, logic goes out the window, followed by grammar." But that's just two sentences a chapter, and not worth wading through the rest.

Things pick up in the later pages when he offers tips on formatting, and there's also good information on pages 190-201, when he finally forgets about himself and gives a straight presentation on publishing - advances, plant costs, inventory - but other books tell it in more depth. He also doesn't tell you anything you can do besides hope for a big advance. Actually, there's one line that says, "There's nothing to prevent an author from stepping forward to promote their book themselves," but that's it. David Morrell's book on writing not only outlines the same information, but tells you how to handle your taxes, how you can buy up remainders at a discount, and has a whole chapter on self-promotion.

Finally, we have an Appendix titled "Where Writers Get Help." Stein recommends Renni Browne's Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print, and Oakley Hall's The Art and Craft of Novel Writing, and I'd recommend those over this book as well.

Then he has sections on "Help with Characterization," "Help with Dialogue," "Help with Plotting," and in an amazing display of propaganda, he mentions "Stein on Writing" seven times, his software WritePro five times, his software Fiction Master nine times, and gives you the address of his website seven times. All in just eight pages. He does at times mention other books, but the rest is just overkill.

To sum up, skip this one and try David Morrell's The Successful Novelist, Lawrence Block's Telling Lies for Fun & Profit: A Manual for Fiction Writers, and the ones mentioned above. This one's just a waste of time.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An indispensable addition to your library, October 16, 2003
By 
J. Rhoderick (Frederick, MD USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I'm not a big fan of "How to Write" books.
I remain convinced that the best way to learn how to write is to read good fiction; and there's always the time-tested method of practice, practice, practice. You need no guide, and no coach, to scrutinize your favorite novels and ask yourself, "What makes this novel so great?"
Sol Stein's, HOW TO GROW A NOVEL is best touted as a book on how to make your fiction marketable. As the subtitle suggests, Stein points out many of the flaws that many newcomers to fiction often overlook. They are the very same flaws that weaken your fiction and place doubt in the publisher's mind.
The publishing business has become like most other American businesses: bottom-line oriented. If you're novel isn't sellable, it's unlikely that you'll get published. We Americans are impatient; we want our story delivered to us in a syringe, not in a poem.
Stein's book will help you to focus more on your story and less on your writing. As he repeatedly notes, the writing should be invisible to the reader. The reader is after the story, the engine that makes our hearts races and our minds dream. Stein's book will help you to look at your manuscript with an editor's eye; all of those seemingly excusable mistakes will pop out at you and make you blush, embarrassed that you were once thinking of sending that manuscript to an agent.
So, if it's publication in the mainstream fiction market you're after, then I would consider this book indispensable. Much of it is, however, common sense. It's stuff we all know but don't realize we know.
The only reason I've given this book 4 stars instead of 5 is because there's nothing new here. This book offers nothing that his previous book, "Stein on Writing," offered (despite what other reviews say); but I think the same information has been presented in better packaging. I greatly prefer HOW TO GROW A NOVEL to STEIN ON WRITING; although I'm glad to own both.
The other problem with HOW TO GROW A NOVEL is that it so strictly develops margins for the writer that I'd hate to see new writers be afraid to try something new. Most rules are breakable: it's being crafty enough to get away with it that's tough.
All in all, if you need to learn how to write properly, pick up a copy of Strunk & White's THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE. But if you write for publication and you need the help of an excellent editor and some down-to-earth advice on making readers love what you write, pick up a copy of HOW TO GROW A NOVEL and get to work!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another excellent "How To" book by Sol Stein, March 20, 2002
I have spent a long time and written a lot of articles going over many of the techniques necessary for a writer to become a novelist. Some of these techniques are as basic as grammar and spelling, and some of them as complex as developing an underlying premise. In all of them, I have said that you should approach the novel with the end in mind. Little did I know that I was mistaken in what the end is.
How to Grow a Novel has shown me the error of my ways. It clued me into the knowledge that the end I was always seeking in my writing was ultimately selfish, and therefore doomed to failure. Even if my own novels sold a million copies each (an amazing feat, since I have yet to publish even one), I would still have failed. They would only be shallow reflections of what they could be because I wouldn't have been seeking the correct end. Sol Stein's insight into this one valuable piece of information is worth the price of the book alone. The book is packed so full of excellent and useful insight that this one piece of information is almost lost in the grandeur of it's craftsmanship.
What was this mistake I was making? I'll tell you in a minute.
Mr. Stein goes over many of the common mistakes we writers make, and offers solutions to them in a way that is so direct and incisive, that you will wonder why it is you never thought of them in the first place. Many of these mistakes make perfect sense to the reader, but are somewhat murky to the author, and it is this very viewpoint he approaches the problems with that makes the book so worthwhile.
How to Grow a Novel is a book that is uniquely concerned with the true focus of novels: The Reader. Everything a novelist does should convey that piece of insight, yet many of the aspiring authors who set out to write their first works never realize that this is the case. It was true for me, and I was aware that I was writing for the readers. Unfortunately it wasn't for the right ones.
That's what my mistake was. I was writing for the wrong readers... Those that have already been told what they want to know about the story, or who are reading it for a critique. The readers I should have been writing it for are those out there that know nothing about it other than that someone told them it was good.
For me, it's back to the drawing board now. I have some serious revising to do...
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How to Grow a Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them
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