- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; 1st edition (January 25, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0312254210
- ISBN-13: 978-0312254216
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.9 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 241 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #46,173 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies 1st Edition
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"The best reading experiences," says Sol Stein, "defy interruption." With Stein's assistance, you can grab your reader on page 1 and not let go until "The End." Stein--author of nine novels (including the bestselling The Magician) and editor to James Baldwin, W.H. Auden, and Lionel Trilling--offers "usable solutions" for any writing problem you may encounter. He is authoritative and commanding--neither cheerleader nor naysayer. Instead, he rails against mediocrity and demands that you expunge it from your work. Perhaps the concept of scrutinizing every modifier, every metaphor, every character trait sounds like drudgery. But with Stein's lively guidance, it is a pleasure. Stein recommends that you brew conflict in your prose by giving your characters different "scripts." He challenges you, in an exercise concerning voice, to write the sentence you want the world to remember you by. He uses an excerpt from E.L. Doctorow to demonstrate poorly written monologue and a series of Taster's Choice commercials as an example of dialogue that works. Stein's bottom line is that good writing must be suspenseful. Your job, says Stein, "is to give readers stress, strain, and pressure. The fact is that readers who hate those things in life love them in fiction." --Jane Steinberg
“The best book on writing that I have read . . . The tips, shortcuts, and plentiful examples of good writing versus bad cannot fail to every writer, no matter at what stage he finds himself.” ―Barnaby Conrad, author of Matador and Learning to Write Fiction from the Masters
“Stimulating . . . Offers a banquet of savvy advice. Unlike Anne Lamott, et al., Stein aims not to help his readers wrestle with writerly anguish; rather, he gets on the page, citing examples from writers famous and fledgling, closely analyzing first sentences, creation of character, plotting, and dialogue . . . Stein concentrates more on fiction--point of view and the creation of love scenes--but his advice on such issues as self-editing and choosing a title applies also to nonfiction. A section on nonfiction contains worthy remarks about adapting fictional techniques (suspense, visual particularity, etc.).” ―Publishers Weekly
“This book can jump-start anyone's creativity. Highly recommended for all writing collections.” ―Library Journal
“My publisher Sol Stein was my producer, and editor Sol Stein was my director. Stein saw what I didn't think possible.” ―Elia Kazan
“[Stein] went over my manuscript with an ifallible eye for the soft spots in my prose, giving me one of the best editorial readinds I've ever had.” ―Lionel Trilling
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ADJECTIVES, ADVERBS, & FLAB:
For a while now I have been confused when I hear people say "cut adverbs." I've loved some colorful writing that adverbs produce. I made a list of wonderful sentences with adverbs written by J.K. Rowling, John Grisham, and Georgette Heyer. I recently read three Hemingway short stories and noticed a lot of adjectives and adverbs in two of them. That intrigued me because he is famous for concise writing. Stein is the first expert who explains this subject to my satisfaction. Although he recommends cutting most adjectives and adverbs, he gives examples showing when they are valuable. I like his view. Stein and I both like the following paragraph which is full of adjectives and adverbs. Although a novel filled with this should probably be labeled poetry rather than fiction. Still it shows the emotional and sensual ability of adjectives and adverbs. Stein calls it "a nearly perfect paragraph." It was written by a student of his, Linda Katmarian.
"Weeds and the low hanging branches of unpruned trees swooshed and thumped against the car while gravel popped loudly under the car's tires. As the car bumped along, a flock of startled blackbirds exploded out of the brush. For a moment they fluttered and swirled about like pieces of charred paper in the draft of a flame and then were gone. Elizabeth blinked. The mind could play such tricks."
Stein says "She's breaking rules. Adjectives and adverbs which normally should be cut are all over the place. They're used to wonderful effect because she uses the particular sound of words `the low hanging branches swooshed and thumped against the car. Gravel popped. Startled blackbirds exploded out of the brush. They fluttered and swirled.' We experience the road the car is on because the car `bumped' along. What a wonderful image. `The birds fluttered and swirled about like pieces of charred paper in the draft of a flame.' And it all comes together in the perception of the character `Elizabeth blinked. The mind could play such tricks.' Many published writers would like to have written a paragraph that good. That nearly perfect paragraph was ..."
Another example. Stein does not like the sentence "What a lovely, colorful garden." Lovely is too vague. Colorful is specific therefore better; but lovely and colorful don't draw us in because we expect a garden to be lovely or colorful. There are several curiosity provoking adjectives you might use. If we hear that a garden is curious, strange, eerie, remarkable, or bizarre, we want to know why. An adjective that piques the reader's curiosity helps move the story along.
Stein says when you have two adjectives together with one noun, you should almost always delete one of the adjectives. He also recommends eliminating the following words which he calls flab: had, very, quite, poor (unless talking of poverty), however, almost, entire, successive, respective, perhaps, always, and "there is." Other words can be flab as well.
PARTICULARITY (attentiveness to detail):
I love the following comparison. "You have an envelope? He put one down in front of her." This exchange is void of particularity. Here's how the transaction was described by John LeCarre. "You have a suitable envelope? Of course you have. Envelopes were in the third drawer of his desk, left side. He selected a yellow one A4 size and guided it across the desk but she let it lie there." Those particularities ordinary as they seem help make what she is going to put into the envelope important. The extra words are not wasted because they make the experience possible and credible. (My favorite part: "Of course you have.")
FLASHBACKS AND SCENES THAT END PREMATURELY:
Stein discourages flashbacks. He says they break the reading experience. They pull the reader out of the story to tell what happened earlier. Yay! I agree! I don't like them either.
I don't recall Stein discussing "ending scenes prematurely," but I think (or hope) he would agree with me that they also "break the reading experience." For example, Mary walks into a room, hears a noise, and is hit. The next sentence is about another character in another place. Many authors do this to create artificial suspense. It makes me angry, and my anger takes me out of the story because I'm thinking about the author instead of the characters. You can have great suspense without doing this. Stein says "The Day of the Jackal" is famous for use of suspense. The scenes in that book have natural endings.
FIRST THREE PAGES OF A BOOK MAY NOT BE AS CRITICAL AS THEY USED TO BE:
Stein said a "book must grab the reader in the first three pages or they won't buy the book." This was based on studies watching customers in book stores. They looked at the jacket and then the first one to three pages. They either put it back or bought it. I think the internet changed things by providing customer reviews. I buy around 280 books a year. I never buy a book based on the first three pages. My decision to buy is based on customer reviews and/or book jacket summaries. I suppose the first three pages might still be important for customers in physical stores like Barnes & Noble and Walmart. But today we have books that become best sellers as ebooks and subsequently are published in paperback, for example Fifty Shades of Grey. Bloggers and reviewers spread the word, not bookstore visitors.
STEIN'S TEN COMMANDMENTS FOR WRITERS:
I've edited for brevity and to remove thou shalt's.
1. Do not sprinkle characters into a preconceived plot. In the beginning was the character. (I like this, but I also think Stephen King has a good idea - something to try. He creates a "situation" first, then the characters, and last the plot.)
2. Imbue your heroes with faults and your villains with charm. For it is the faults of the hero that bring forth his life, just as the charm of the villain is the honey with which he lures the innocent.
3. Your characters should steal, kill, dishonor their parents, bear false witness, and covet their neighbor's house, wife, man servant, maid servant, and ox. For readers crave such actions and yawn when your characters are meek, innocent, forgiving, and peaceable. (I love this.)
4. Avoid abstractions, for readers like lovers are attracted by particularity.
5. Do not mutter, whisper, blurt, bellow, or scream. Stein prefers using "he said." (I'm not sure about this one. I like hearing these words. Maybe in moderation?)
6. Infect your reader with anxiety, stress, and tension, for those conditions that he deplores in life, he relishes in fiction.
7. Language shall be precise, clear, and bear the wings of angels for anything less is the province of businessmen and academics and not of writers. (I assume this includes cutting adjectives, adverbs, and flab - but keep the good ones.)
8. "Thou shalt have no rest on the sabbath, for thy characters shall live in thy mind and memory now and forever." (I'm not sure how this is advice to writers.)
9. Dialogue: directness diminishes, obliqueness sings.
10. Do not vent your emotions onto the reader. Your duty is to evoke the reader's emotions.
Do not write about wimps. People who seem like other people are boring. Ordinary people are boring.
Cut cliches. Say it new or say it straight.
If not clear who is speaking put "George said" before the statement. If it is clear, put "George said" after or eliminate "George said."
Don't use strange spellings to convey dialect or accents.
Christopher Lane is excellent.
Unabridged audiobook reading time: 11 hrs and 16 mins. Swearing language: one instance of the word s*** (as I recall). Sexual content: none. Book copyright: 1995. Genre: nonfiction, how to write.
In fact, I was scribbling and highlighting like a nine year old within minutes of cracking the paperback.
Biggest Take away? His description on SHOW ME DON'T TELL ME is the best I have read to date.
Are you a writer? Then, stop what you're doing, and order this book today. It will open your eyes and mind in a fresh way. Oh, before you think I'm an exaggerator, let me say that there are a few spots where I glazed over and started skimming. But that was because he was making a point, telling you the point he was going to make, then made, and reiterated the point he had made.
All in all, it's a swell, engaging and rapid read that's chock full of useful insight. It's a Must Have for any author!
Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies
One caveat: it is primarily targeted at fiction writers. While there are a few sections on writing nonfiction, I'd recommend supplementing this book with something else if that is your genre.
Now I know three things. What I did right. What I did wrong. And how to fix it.
Success is inspiration and perspiration. You'll learn the exercises that make you sweat effective.
This book gives but one guarantee. Ignore it's lessons and you will fail.
Reading precedes writing.
This book is a 'must read.'
Recommend reading BEFORE you start writing a book to avoid doing a complete overhaul of a first draft!