Why Sol Stein’s “How To Grow A Novel,” Will Leave You Wanting More

The experience I am about to describe is probably one that you are familiar with. You see a trailer for a movie and you are excited. You only have bits of information so your mind begins to fill all the gaps. Before you even sit down in the movie theater you already have the movie played out in your head. This happens, and then this happens, and finally the foreshadowing pays off with the MASSIVE reveal. Keep in mind, this is all in your imagination so far.

Then the movie happens, and instead of exceeding your expectations, it fails to met them. Doesn’t mean it was a bad movie, but it wasn’t THE movie.  This was my experience with How To Grow A Novel.

How To Grow A Novel Is A Great Book, But It Wasn’t “My” Book.

This is where my expectations lead me astray. When I read “How To Grow A Novel,” I took the title literally.

Woah, a whole book on how to GROW a novel, I thought. What I imagined was a 300-page piece of mastery that would break down how to grow a novel. It would give me a whole set of tools that walked the line between discovery writing and outlining. Here, would be the strategy to create a novel that grows organically, that’s plot points feel inevitable, that has a power behind it that will knock a reader off their feet.

Again, I let my imagination run away with me.

Instead, I go a well-written book that isolates many important components of writing a novel. Sol Stein goes in depth when it comes to characters and conflict, and makes for a great read if you as a fiction writer. It seems like an extension to his other book, Stein On Writing,  which I haven’t read, but was referenced throughout. Several times throughout the book he looked like he was going to talk about something, but then would say something like “If you want an in-depth analysis, then look at Chapter X in Stein on Writing.”

Now, I think this was a great book. It’s my own expectation’s fault that I made it out to be something it wasn’t before I read it. Maybe someone will write a perfect book about how to grow a novel, but until then, I’ll be left with my imagination. Anyways, moving on, lets do a quick list of things you can learn from, How To Grow A Novel. 

Three Things You Will Learn From Reading  “How To Grow A Novel,”

1.   Reader Experience Should Be At The Forefront Of Your Mind, WHEN REVISING

Stein makes this point clear,  “How and when can writers deal with the reader’s experience? Those writers who attempt to consider the reader’s experience while writing usually fail. The time to think about the effect of each sequence is when planning a scene or revising it.”

The Experience of the Reader needs to be taken into account when you write a book. If you wanted to know why there are so many dead books, unread blogs and general writing failures out there, a lot of it could be explained away with a failure to care about The Reader’s Experience.

I’ve seen a lot of people post their fiction online, and reading it, you can tell, they wrote it for themselves. Their work is just a manifested piece of narcissism. This can only really work if you have massive skill to back it up.

If you don’t care about the reader, the reader doesn’t care about your work. As a writer, or artist, or entrepreneur, you are bleeding for you reader or your customer. They won’t bleed for you.

2. Never Take The Reader Where They Want To Go

This may seem like a contradictory point, when comparing with the last one, but it isn’t. You are creating a story for the reader. The reader is on this roll-coaster ride you have created for them, and they’ve agreed to be taken for a ride.

To create a good ride, you need to never take them where they want to go.

Here is what Sol Stein says on the matter:

“Never take the reader where the reader wants to go. Your job as a manipulator of the reader’s emotions is to start the next chapter somewhere else or with a different character, leaving the reader hanging. You are not a nice guy, you are a writer… The essence of book-length suspense is to keep the reader curious, especially at the end of each chapter, and to frustrate the reader’s expectation by the way you start the next chapter.”

You see, we aren’t here to play nice. We are here to tell a good story. If the reader got what they wanted, then the story would be over by page 2. The reason we have a story in the first place is because of conflict, bad things happening to people we are invested in.

3. There Are Better Ways To Hook A Reader Than A Dead Body Or A Bomb

This is a more specific point. Sol Stein makes the distinction between good fiction and transitory fiction. In his mind, a lot of thrillers fall into the transitory category.

One convention he points out is the hook. There are many novels that try and grab the attention of the reader by starting out with a fight scene, a dead body, or a terrorist act, and often, it doesn’t achieve its intention.

The reason being, Stein believes, is that we aren’t invested enough in the story. Sure, sometimes this can work, but if it doesn’t, the reader is presented with people in peril that he doesn’t care about.

Instead, Stein recommends that you start showing character as soon as you can, as well as a strong conflict. He says:

“You don’t have to find a body in the first sentence, or blow up a stadium, to prickle the reader’s hairline about what might happen. It may be easier to sell a novel today that starts with a bang, but the bang has to be credible, and has to mean something to a character the reader can quickly care about.”

If You Enjoyed That Short List, Then The Book “How To Grow A Novel,” Is Probably For You.

I’ll attach a link here.

Overall, I found it a helpful book, even though I was expecting a different read. If you are a fiction writer, it will give you a lot to think on and implement. I’m thinking of getting Stein On Writing, so it is in no way a bad book.

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