Stein on Writing

Cover of "Stein On Writing: A Master Edit...
Cover via Amazon

Just completed a good book about writing by Sol Stein – Stein on Writing. Sol Stein not only has written books, he has edited numerous bestselling and critically acclaimed writers. If you want to be a writer, or are a writer, if I were you I would pay attention.

Here are a few good tips I’d like to pass along from his book:

Excellence in diction is the most important characteristic of fine writing. He means that the right word choice makes all the difference in a good book.

Do adverb and adjective liposuction on your manuscript. Most sentences don’t need more words to make them better, they need less.

Pick up the pace of your manuscript by making conversation adversarial, short sentences, frequent paragraphing, eliminate two-thirds of your words, delete scenes that don’t matter to the whole project even if they are lovely.

Use all six senses throughout your story. Wow! Does this make a difference!

Flashbacks: as a rule never put them in the first few chapters, and cut down on information dumping.

Here’s how Mr. Stein teaches how to show and not “tell”:

She boiled water. (tells)

She put the kettle on the stove. (begins to show)

She filled the kettle from the faucet and hummed till the kettle’s whistle cut her humming short. (shows)

The secret of good dialogue is – cut the small talk, listen to the way people use dialect and use it in your story,

A good way to create tension in a story is to note a fact. This often leaves a reader wondering why you’ve done it. For instance, “It is cold at 6:40 in the morning of a March day in Paris, and seems even colder when a man is about to be executed by firing squad.”

Use “particularity” in your writing. In his book On Becoming a Novelist, John Gardner said, “Detail is the lifeblood of fiction.” Sol Stein writes, It is not just detail that distinguishes good writing, it is detail that individualizes. I call it “particularity.” Here is one small example of the many that Mr. Stein uses. Instead of saying “Vernon was a heavy smoker.” You could say, “Vernon coughed from the ground up.”

Similes and metaphors? Use them. No clichés allowed.

Revision is the most important part of writing.

Mr. Stein says a great deal more in his book. His examples and his chapters on how to write specific things like love scenes should not be ignored, but I don’t have room or time for more. I hope this helps give you a little boost in your writing today.



One thought on “Stein on Writing”

  1. This is an excellent writing book! One of my favorites. Stein has such great advice. I felt like I could have underlined or highlighted every sentence, but then that would have defeated the purpose a bit 🙂


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