Sol Stein is a prizewinning playwright produced on Broadway, an anthologized poet, the author of nine novels, and an award-winning teacher of writers. He has edited some of the most successful writers of the century. He is the author of Stein on Writing and How to Grow a Novel and creator of the computer programs WritePro®, FictionMaster®, and FirstAid for Writers®.
In my pantheon of books about writing—a pantheon that sits alongside my pantheon of comic strip books, in case you were wondering—Sol Stein’s Stein on Writing holds the distinction of being a founding member. Stein’s book was one of the first writing books I read, and boy, what a good place to start. He talks at times about playwriting and novels, but he mixes it in so well with the stuff I like—journalism, general writing advice—that it never feels boring or inapplicable. His advice to attend poorly written plays can easily be transferred to reading poorly written books, magazine articles, and Internet posts. I hope this isn’t one of those bad Internet posts. If it is, I guess you’re just following Sol Stein’s advice.
I am a big fan of Ayn Rand and happened to read her "Art of Fiction" before reading "Stein on Writing." It is interesting that the books give opposite advice.
Rand advises that the plot is the most important aspect of a novel and must be a purposeful progression of events demonstrating some sort of value. She calls this Romantic writing. Rand advises against Naturalistic writing, of telling a make-believe story with no purpose, because in that case your time would be better spent writing non-fiction.
Stein is firmly in the Naturalistic camp. And, his book contains sections that are insulting to people who enjoy Romantic novels. For example, he puts down all Ian Fleming novels as being written for simplistic people.
I happen to like the writing of Rand and Fleming. I aspire to write something approaching their work in greatness. Therefore, Stein has only provided me with ideas on what not to do.
John Christmas, author of "Democracy Society"
If your answer on any of the above is "yes", get "Stein on Writing". You'll find, too, that I've only scratched the surface of what's in it. Sol Stein knows what he's talking about here. And he doesn't waste a word, which is why this huge book is only 300 pages. I read it in a day but I'll never be through with it -- here it sits, open, at my left elbow, marked up something awful.