How to Grow a Novel
Sol Stein
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Buy *How to Grow a Novel* online How to Grow a Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make & How to Overcome Them
Sol Stein
St. Martin's Press
256 pages
March 2002
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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You know you're listening to the voice of editorial authority when Sol Stein talks. Author of nine novels (including bestseller The Magician) and several nonfiction books, Stein is also a prize-winning playwright, an anthologized poet, a writer of screenplays and TV dramas. But probably most impressive is his track record as an editor and publisher -- he's worked with (and often improved) the works of such notables as James Baldwin, Jack Higgins, Elia Kazan, W.H. Auden, Dylan Thomas and Jacques Barzun. When Sol Stein offers advice on growing your novel, in other words, you'd best take heed.

Curled Up With a Good BookThe father of the modern trade paperback format, Stein's influence and experience in the publishing world from both sides of the editor's desk lend weight to his words. In How to Grow a Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them, Stein picks up where he left off in Stein on Writing. Here his goal is to replicate the specificity and detail of a one-on-one editor-to-author session. His best counsel comes early: a writer who wants to succeed must first and foremost maintain a state of courtesy to his or her audience, remembering that the reader

is primarily seeking an experience different from and greater than his or her everyday experiences in real life... they enjoy in fiction what they often deplore in life: anxiety, tension, suspense, and conflict. We ignore those needs of the audience at our peril.
Stein offers concrete examples that will help novelists create "characters who are characters," find the essence of their novel, put zing in their dialogue, perfect their point of view, and, most importantly, trim the flab that drags many first novels into the purgatory of unreadability. So useful are his suggestions that How to Grow a Novel serves not only an instructive purpose for writers, but for editors as well.

Lest the tyro novelist set his sights unrealistically high, Stein also gives a pragmatic and somewhat grim insider's view of today's publishing world. He laments that it is no longer the editorial staff but the marketing departments of most publishers who decide what this season's list will look like. He decries a book world where the shelf-life grows shorter and shorter and where the midlist gets short shrift. He challenges writers, editors and publishers to aim higher in their literary aspirations so that the record of our culture might be more certainly preserved. How to Grow a Novel exceeds the expectations of its title, taking a broad view that will have real book lovers nodding their heads in emphatic sympathy, and novelists taking their stories to the next level.

© 2002 by Sharon Schulz-Elsing for Curled Up With a Good Book

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