Sol Stein was the Chief Editor at Stein and Day publishers for 27 years and edited such greats as George Orwell, James Baldwin and Dylan Thomas. So Stein on Writing: A Master Editor Shares His Craft, Techniques, and Strategies is culled from experience and provides a no-nonsense guide to what should go and what should stay in any manuscript.
Stein is very detail-oriented when it comes to writing, and he shows the budding author exactly how to phrase little things so that they have a big impact. In his chapter, "How to Show Instead of Tell," he explains the difference between showing and telling, something that every author ought to know. He goes on to explain how there can be different levels of showing. For example, the sentence, "He took a walk" tells, but the sentence, "He walked the four blocks slowly" shows things more clearly. However, "He walked as if against an unseen wind, hoping someone would stop him" shows even more clearly, giving you insight into the character's mind.
In addition to such great advice about pumping up the little details, he also has recommendations about plotting and characterization. He takes an exercise from the Playwright Group of the Actor's Studio and teaches you how to create instant conflict in your work. He's a big believer in keeping things taut and streamlined, as indicated by his chapter on "Liposuctioning Flab," and maintaining the velocity of your writing is addressed in "Amphetamines for Speeding up Pace."
Stein on Writing contains advice for writers of fiction and non-fiction alike, and Stein even points out how non-fiction writers can borrow techniques used by fiction writers to improve their writing. Stein is ruthless when it comes to editing, telling writers to get rid of entire chapters if they are weak. However, his novel idea that editing is like triage helps you to figure out which parts of your book have life and which parts are lacking in vitality.
If one were just telling, one would say that Stein's book is a good resource for writers. However, if you follow Stein's advice of showing rather than telling, it would be appropriate to say that Stein's short and snappy manual will transform the most colorless manuscript into a captivating, provocative book.
Sol Stein was born in 1926 in Chicago, but his family soon moved to New York where he attended City College New York which gave a free education at the time. He also served in the army during the second world war and returned to do a Master's in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He was involved in the fight against McCarthyism and edited the book McCarthy and the Communists, written by James Rorty and Moshe Decter. The book is said to have been instrumental in unseating Senator McCarthy. Stein also started Stein and Day publishers with his wife Patricia Day; the firm published a hundred books a year until it was forced to close down. Stein himself is the author of nine novels and three books of non-fiction.
"Great tutorial on writing. The book isn't just for fiction authors. I wish it had more instruction on characterization and plot building. The brevity is also the strength of the book. Stein encourages and even inspires writers to take pride in their work. I found some of the editing exercises to be immediately helpful. The book surveys many areas where authors struggle the most. The advice is detailed enough to be useful yet clearly explained. For example, Stein suggests using adjectives and adverbs sparingly. However, he doesn't outlaw the usage. This could cause confusion for a reader as to when the use of these modifiers are appropriate. In order to educate, he provides multiple examples of good and bad usage. The reader is challenged to edit as many adjectives and adverbs from each example. The exercise makes the point much better than a mechanical explanation could. Stein is accessible, practical, and encouraging. Its a very valuable manual for aspiring writers. I couldn't absorb all the advice on the first read. Thus, its a book deserving of multiple reads."
Seth (4 out of 5 stars)