- 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 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars See all reviews (233 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #42,718 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
From Publishers Weekly
In this stimulating guide, a veteran novelist (The Magician), editor (Stein & Day) and teacher 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 (use "speech markers" to differentiate among characters). 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.) but is too brief to be a full guide to journalistic writing or producing an account of a historic event.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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.
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!
STEIN ON WRITING is precise information, right to the point with useful examples. The language isn't over the top. A must read for writers at any stage of their journey, but especially for those new to the craft and unpublished.
Here are a few notes I took pertaining to specific areas of the book:
Page 8 - Feelings, no facts.
Page 20 - Must grasp/shock in first sentence and or paragraph.
Page 36 - The first paragraph should contain:
What will they see.
Focus on an individual.
Visible characteristics of the individual.
Individual doing or saying something.
Startling or odd fact to grab attention.
Page 42 - Readers insist on seeing what they are reading because of TV.
Page 43 - Description needs to be part of the storytelling, not static.
Page 45 - Storyteller, not an interior decorator.
Page 49 - If characters are alive, they become the story. You must know and be attached to the characters in order for the plot to work, not the other way around.
Page 57 - Talk and act, not tell.
Page 54 - Good examples of showing not telling.
Page 55 - Show with eyes, not just state color. How/what are they expressing.
Page 55, 56 - Words need to not be just informative, but evoke something. Need to stir feelings in readers, even in description.
Page 62 - What makes a character.
Page 71 - Individualize minor characters through main characters eyes, not narrative.
Page 75 - Separate our lives/beliefs from characters.
Page 81 - Character questions to ask.
Page 197 - Get rid of the flab!
Page 260 - Need to visualize each paragraph/scene first to get a sense of the surroundings to give great detail.
If I had to pick one thing that stuck out the most that I learned from STEIN ON WRITING, I would have to say to cut out the flab. After reading about eliminating flab, I went to work on my own manuscript, getting rid of the words that clog our writing and hinder our reading experience.