Sol Stein on humanity and authority

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My good friend and fellow novelist Larisa Zlatic sent me an excerpt from a good writing book by Sol Stein. Her excerpts from Stein on Writing include these:

The first step in revision is to make a judgment about your main characters. Character problems must be dealt with before beginning a general revision. This method of revision makes certain that you have humanized your characters.

Do you think about them in situations that are not in your book? If so, good. It means your characters are alive in your mind and should come alive in the minds of the readers. If you can’t think of an important character in situations away from the story that character may need more work. Ask these questions:

• What is about your character that you like especially? Is it also your own trait? If yes, it is a symptom of the autobiography trap, creating a character that is too like yourself. Resolution: give a character a trait (positive or negative) that you absolutely don’t have.

• If you’re going on a vacation how would you feel if your character were going along? Would you look forward to that? You may need to add some sparkle to your character, some interesting eccentricity, personality characteristic that will make his company more enjoyable.

I have Stein’s How to Grow a Novel on my bookshelf, and Chapter Eight offers on advanced point of view. He summarizes the explanation of how to distinguish first from third from omniscient, then he says, “I can’t recall a manuscript that didn’t have a couple of glitches in the handling of point of view. Sometimes dozens. The need to be caught in revision. The novelist’s authority depends on it.”

Authority in writing transmits the “dream state” to the readers, the means to lock them into the world you’ve created. And believe me, I’m working on maintaining authority in Viral Times right now.

The Architecture of Chapters and Cathedrals

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I am closing in on my final half dozen chapters of my novel Viral Times. The work that follows this “draft that must be done,” as Bruce Holland Rogers calls the first draft: revision. Big revision, at first, to eliminate what’s not working.

Determine what’s not needed by putting a scene or a chapter against this rule, suggested in Philip Gerard’s Writing a Book that Makes a Difference:

Dramatically, the “rule” of chapters is the rule of scenes in any fiction: Each chapter should have a reason for its inclusion. The chapter [or scene] should not just

  • provide more information
  • expand the resume of character
  • enhance the descriptions of place

[A chapter] may do all of these things, but first it must have an indispensable role in moving the story along.

Gerard compares writing a novel to building a cathedral. What’s problem is solved by building a cathedral? No, it’s not giving glory to God. The cathedral creates a large indoor lighted space.

A cathedral creates an architecture of light, Gerard says. So too does a novel.