Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Review: 'How to Grow a Novel' by Sol Stein

How to Grow a Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them, by Sol Stein, 1999, St. Martin's Press, $24.95, hardbound, 240 pages. Category/Genre: writing how-to. Cover: plain. Where we got it: borrowed it. Where you can get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million.

According to Stein, a fiction writer uses techniques that enable the reader to believe that the fiction is true. The writer, therefore, must capture the reader, and Stein sets about helping you to do that. 

He talks about narrative hook, which is what grabs the reader's attention and makes him not want to stop reading. The writer has a choice, Stein says: to begin your story with a melodrama or to start with a conflict that slowly develops into a big event. 

The writer must also decide whose story is to be told; the choice of protagonist is an important one which will help the writer tell the story properly. 

Stein also tackles the problem of revision. He suggests recording your first page on audio cassette, letting some time elapse, and listening to it. 'Changing from eye to ear,' he says, 'will give you some distance.' This will help you catch clumsiness, inaccurate images, too many words, and so on.

Stein also addresses publishing. He says that whether or not major book shop chains will take a book (or take it in quantity) is a deciding factor in the size of a first printing. Also, those books that sell best are nearly always those that the publisher promotes the most -- which is a decision made before publication. 

We didn't find this book particularly helpful, although there are some useful spots. Still, what is useful to you and useful to us may differ. 

If you like this one, try: The Writer's Idea Book, by Jack Heffron. 

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