Copyright © 2010, Steven E. Houchin
I recently finished reading Sol Stein’s book Stein On Writing. Its chapters are divided into seven sections, allowing the reader to zero in on the subjects he/she cares most about. Stein’s writing is straightforward and the chapters are peppered with excellent examples, both good and bad.
I concentrated most on the Fiction section, where each chapter presents different concepts and techniques, such as Plotting, Characterization, Suspense, Tension, Dialog, and Point of View.
I especially liked two of the chapters.
A) The Crucible: A Key to Successful Plotting. This is the situation that binds the characters together even as things go terribly wrong. What is it that keeps them together until the end, rather than running away? It can be something like a marriage, a blood relationship, a closed physical location, a business, a competition, etc. The crucible can exist for one or more scenes, or may define the whole novel. When used, it can breed plenty of character conflict and be a device for the character to grow or change.
B) The Adrenaline Pump: Creating Tension. The chapter starts with the great notion that “Writers are troublemakers”. Rather than seeking to relieve stress, we wish to give our readers the sense of more stress and pressure, like stretching a rubber band. He makes the point that, once the author creates the tension, he/she shouldn’t let go too quickly; let the stress linger - drag it out as long as possible. The tension can come from a single chilling sentence, or by setting up a stressful situation, such as a ticking clock to an ominous deadline.
Stein’s book should be a valuable reference I can refer to again and again to get my novelist’s juices flowing anytime my writing feels stale.