Review: "Solutions for Writers" by Sol Stein
Released over twenty years ago, Sol Stein’s Solutions for Writers has become something of a classic on how to write. A practical tool box aimed at both fiction and non-fiction writers, it’s a valuable if somewhat flawed addition to any author’s literary kit.
Solutions for Writers undoubtedly benefits from the authority of its author. Stein is an author, editor, and script writer who has worked with several big names in writing. As a result, he’s seen what does and doesn’t work from different angles. This background makes it easy to have faith in him as a writer on writing. Stein has earned the confidence with which he writes.
Stein’s approach in this book isn’t to provide a set of broad principles or to set out the basics of writing. Though the book claims to be suitable for writers of all levels, he assumes a familiarity with the fundamentals of storytelling. This isn’t a book that will tell you about three-act structure or the different points of view.
Instead, Stein presents a toolbox. Each chapter deals with an individual topic, from good dialogue to creating tension to selecting a point of view. These are presented in a practical way, with examples and guidance on how to apply them. You can dip in, pick a tool for the specific issue you’re dealing with, and use that.
As well as focusing on practicality, Stein emphasizes the need to practice. Good writing won’t just arrive in a flash of inspiration and not everything you write will be solid gold. We need to exercise our story-telling muscles, not just try to run literary marathons.
- The explanation of the crucible and how to use it. This tool is an invaluable one for plotting a story, providing a way to crank up the tension without the characters flying apart through the problems between them. This chapter alone justifies picking up the book.
- The chapter on cutting out the flab, which shows how and why to make your writing concise and focused. It’s a surprising and enlightening touch from an author whose prime audience seems to be writers of literary fiction.
- Chapters on thwarting desire and creating tension, which will help in crafting an emotionally powerful and exciting story.
- A chapter on what makes a good book title, an often overlooked part of the creative process and an essential one in writing a book that sells.
- A section on applying the tools of fiction to nonfiction, which makes the book useful for a wider range of writers and projects. Despite the praise heaped upon the best nonfiction writers, this is an area of writing that’s often overlooked, and it’s good to see Stein address that.
- A confident, smoothly written book by a writer with proven experience in his craft.
- Full of practical tools to fix specific problems in your writing. The self-contained chapters mean that you can easily pick out and apply the tool that will be useful to you.
- Stein’s ideas for fiction are solidly grounded in a focus on evoking emotions, for a more powerful read.
- Stein’s efforts to show his authority and experience sometimes come across as smug and overly self-satisfied. If it bothers you when a writing instructor draws on their own work or namedrops people they’ve worked with, prepare to be annoyed.
- While some of Stein’s advice is well supported by examples, some is expressed simply as opinions or things taken for granted, making it harder to know whether to use that advice.
- While the chapters make it easy to identify a relevant section, finding the useful tools in that section sometimes involves wading through anecdotes on books and publishing.
Overall, this book is full of invaluable tools. Some readers will enjoy the author’s style more than others, but it’s always accessible and there’s more than enough to make it worth your time.
About Andrew Knighton
Andrew Knighton is a Yorkshire based ghostwriter, responsible for writing many books in other people's names. He's had over fifty stories published in his own name in places such as Daily Science Fiction and Wily Writers. His steampunk adventure series, The Epiphany Club, is out now in all e-book formats, and the first volume, Guns and Guano, is available for free from Amazon or Smashwords. You can find free stories and links to more of his books at andrewknighton.com and follow him on Twitter where he’s @gibbondemon.