Authors: Sol Stein
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
The Touch of Treason
A Deniable Man
The Best Revenge
Napoleon (The Illegitimist)
(New York and California, 1953)
A Shadow of My Enemy
(National Theater, Washington D.C.
and Broadway, 1957)
Feast for Lawyers
STEIN ON WRITING. Copyright © 1995 by Sol Stein, All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Production Editor: David Stanford Burr
Design: Pei Loi Koay
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Stein on writing : a master editor of some of the most successful
writers of our century shares his craft techniques and strategies
by Sol Stein.
1. Authorship. I. Title.
First Edition: December 1995
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3
I am grateful for the experienced advice on this book, as on many of my other books, from Patricia Day and Elizabeth Day Stein. My editors at St. Martin’s Press, Tom McCormack and Marian Lizzi, provided me with both encouragement and thoughtful suggestions, as did Loretta Hudson.
For their insights, I am indebted beyond easy measure to the writers famous, infamous, and not-yet-known, as well as the teachers, readers, and students with whom I shared a life of editorial work and joy, and from whom I learned much of what is between these covers.
Some years ago I addressed the Southern California Chapter of the National Writers Club on a day when a rowboat might have been more appropriate than a car for getting to the meeting. The torrential rain seemed determined to widen the Pacific Ocean at the expense of a state that was once described to me as “mostly desert.” I managed the few hundred feet between the parking lot and the hotel without drowning. Once inside, I expected to find the meeting room deserted. Instead I happily discovered a full house, eighty-eight professional nonfiction writers and journalists come to hear me talk about fiction. I asked these weatherproof stalwarts, “How many of you want to write the Great American Novel?” and eighty-eight hands shot up.
If there are writers in America who do not have several hundred pages of a would-be novel in a drawer or at least in mind, I have not met them. Conversely, every novelist I’ve known has occasion to write nonfiction. For those writers who, at least initially, want to read only about fiction or nonfiction, I offer a road map to this book.
The Contents page provides an overview of the main subjects covered. Part I, “The Essentials,” is for all writers. Part II concerns the craft of fiction. Eavesdropping by nonfiction writers is permitted. Part III deals with subjects of interest to all writers. Part IV deals mainly with the application of fictional techniques for the enhancement of nonfiction. Part V, “Literary Values,” deals with upscale writing, both fiction and nonfiction. Part VI, “Revision,” has separate chapters for fiction and nonfiction. Part VII contains a chapter on where to get help, a final word, and a glossary of terms used by writers and editors.
The reader will find that I frequently use examples from writers I have known or worked with because their material is familiar to me. From time to time I also quote from my own work, allegedly for copyright reasons and convenience, but perhaps also to underscore that I practice what I teach. If I quote often from the
New York Times,
it is convenience as well as merit that guides me; it is the newspaper I read every day. The
has also been in the vanguard of publications using the techniques of fiction to enhance journalism.
Women usually outnumber men among my students, readers, and friends and I trust they will forgive me for using a male pronoun to stand for both genders. Saying “he or she” repeatedly is a distraction to both writer and reader.
I once went to a convention in Seattle, and three people gave me gifts of an umbrella for the trip. It didn’t rain. I hope this book has a few surprises for you.
New York May 1995