By Chet Yarbrough
By Sol Stein
Narrated by Christopher Lane
Sol Stein (Author, Publisher, and Editor-in-Chief for Stein and Day Publishers)
Sol Stein’s book offers a road map to readers and writers. In reviewing books, one begins to understand what makes one better than another. One also realizes how much easier it is to be critical than objective about those who write..
Readers/Listeners/Writers will find the crossroads of commercial and literary success in “Stein on Writing”. Not all literary classics are commercially successful and not all commercially successful books are literary classics.
Stein’s book is a writer’s road map. Stein’s map reveals where a story begins, which roads to follow, and where a story ends. He explains how to write action-ably.
Writers that follow Stein’s map see the highways and streets of writing a good story. An interpretation of what Stein explains would be: Do not write “he was upset”, write, “He hurled an ash tray through a living room window, sprinkling wet shards of glass across a brown patch of grass”.
The first line, “he was upset” is vague. It tells the reader what to think. The second line, “He hurled an ashtray…”, lets a reader come to their own conclusion. It makes the reader decide about a character’s mood. It offers a scene that stimulates a reader’s imagination.
The action of the line above uses what Stein calls “particularity” to focus a reader’s attention. The scene offers clues about a character’s life (an ashtray and a brown patch of grass). The value of using “particularity” sparks interest in knowing more about the ash tray thrower.
Sol notes that a good writer is emoting readers. A good writer wants the reader to feel a character’s emotion. To Stein, a good writer does not tell the reader what to think. Stein wants the writer to make the reader feel what the character feels. On Stein’s map, this is the beginning of good story telling.
Think about Charles Dickens and “David Copperfield” and how a reader becomes invested in David’s life; i.e. how David’s sad and happy feelings invest in the reader’s emotions.
Stein acknowledges some writing details may be lost in commercially successful books but no highways and few streets are lost by a great writer. Interestingly, Stein suggests the techniques of commercially successful and literary writers are the same.
- A cohesive theme ties a story together.
- The use of particularity provides a trail of clues to a story’s theme.
- The use of suspense draws a reader deeper into a story.
Stein notes differences between commercial and literary writing appear in accurate use of language, in universal emotive qualities of story, and in insight to human nature. However, Stein argues that a commercially successful book can miss many of these characteristics; while a classic misses few.
Stein explains the craft of writing is a store owner’s job; always there because he/she owns the business.
- Write every day.
- Rewrite every day.
- Use the dictionary.
- Use the thesaurus.
- Look for the perfect word that precisely defines the meaning of the idea.
- Strive for perfection by finding the right hook to begin a report, a book, or story; keep striving with each paragraph.
Stein offers more and says it better. This is a book for the reference shelf; to be read; to be listened to; again and again.