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Several Open Books

Stein on Writing

Updated: Aug 7, 2023


Personally speaking, as a relatively new writer, with only two novels under my belt (and one of those not making it further than my laptop), Stein on Writing was a revelation. I’d tackled one or two other books on writing (and a number since) and also as much writing advice from the internet (you tube, writing sites) that I could swallow, but nothing captivated me more than Stein’s book.


A worldclass playwright, writer of screenplays, novelist and editor to some of writings greatest names, Stein makes use of all this knowledge in Stein on Writing. And it shows. Other books on writing, some outstanding in their own way, such as Stephen King’s-On Writing, which is partly autobiographical, partly a sharing of expertise, don’t tackle the tricks of the craft in the same way as Stein does. His breadth of experience allows him to go deeper than most and explain the more difficult concepts with clarity giving the reader a more than occasional Eureka moment. For example having accepted a fellowship at the MacDowell Colony, Stein talks at one point about being encouraged by Thornton Wilder to watch 60 plays over a few short months. One significant reason for doing so being to pick up on the moments in a play where some members of the audience began to look at their watches. This focus on the importance of keeping the audience or reader engaged is given added depth by his experiences as a playwright where every scene is immediate and there is no escaping audience disinterest, because it is right there in front of you. Novelists don’t have the luxury of observing their readers falling asleep.


Stein is the first writer on ‘writing’ that I have come across who has really been able to get the concept of ‘show not tell’ across to the student and it is done in an engaging way that captures the reader.


‘Particularity’, a word Stein uses to reflect the need to sprinkle detail into one’s characters, dialogue, locations to lend an air of realism and to pull the reader into the book. Too much and you slow the reader down, take them out of the book, too little and belief in the characters and the story is at best weak and at worst isn’t enough to carry the novel.

Countless books on writing have been published in the past fifteen years since the

advent of online publishing led to the explosion of new writers, books on writing,

writing conferences writers retreats, authortubers and writing groups, and many

Stein on Writing, published in 2000 seems to have been lost in the melee, but

many a would be author could greatly benefit from soaking up as much

knowledge from this highly accomplished writer as they can.


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