Select one of the keywords
How To Grow A Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them    by Sol Stein order for
How To Grow A Novel
by Sol Stein
Order:  USA  Can
St. Martin's, 2002 (1999)
Hardcover, Paperback

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In this guide on How to Grow a Novel, Sol Stein applies a lifetime of experience on both sides of the writing/publishing divide to advise 'the reader who is also a writer' how to avoid common mistakes made by both novices and published authors. The author is also a writing instructor acclaimed for a previous volume, Stein on Writing. I began by scribbling notes from almost every page but soon stopped, after deciding that this was a book I would read and read again.

Much of Sol Stein's advice is oriented towards courtesy to readers, creating for them 'an experience so involving that the reader is not aware of turning pages'. There's a fascinating development of the evolution of storytelling from the times when hunters returned to tell tall tales by the fire. Of course they had instant feedback on audience reaction, and reject notices were more immediate then than they are nowadays. Tales of the hunt make an interesting story model.

I found a detailed discussion of scene based plotting useful, in particular the assessment of scenes for strengths that will 'reward your audience'. Advice on handling point of view and dialogue (especially the ping-pong analogy for the latter) makes a great deal of sense. Summary pointers such as 'don't take the reader where the reader wants to go' and 'characters who are characters' are worth posting as regular reminders. The model of conflict as the engine of fiction is insightful and useful. I appreciated the elaboration of the term 'writerly', rather like 'user friendly' for authors.

It's all in the examples, which add depth. They are taken from Sol Stein's own published works such as The Magician; from his experience with famous writers like Elia Kazan and Jack Higgins; and from books that he has edited by novice writers. He develops an interesting comparison of literary versus transient fiction ('to write a good book' or 'to write a good read'), the emphasis that each requires, and how the publishing industry views (and markets) both.

I recommend How to Grow a Novel as a 'must read' to anyone interested in the writing craft, either as a reader or a writer of fiction. It's a book that I intend to keep close at hand and expect to refer to often.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more NonFiction books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews