Stein is an author, editor, and publisher. His advice is geared toward fiction, with some thoughts for nonfiction. I am a reader and reviewer of books, not a writer. I have strong likes and dislikes about books I’ve read. I’m reading some “how to write books” to see if I agree with the experts. I’m delighted to say that writers who follow Stein’s advice will very likely make me happy when reading their books. I am more liberal than Stein in two areas: the first three pages of a book and his fifth commandment. Scenes that end prematurely are a subject Stein did not discuss, but I believe he would agree with me.
ADJECTIVES, ADVERBS, & FLAB:
For a while now I have been confused when I hear people say “cut adverbs.” I’ve loved some colorful writing that adverbs produce. I made a list of wonderful sentences with adverbs written by J.K. Rowling, John Grisham, and Georgette Heyer. I recently read three Hemingway short stories and noticed a lot of adjectives and adverbs in two of them. That intrigued me because he is famous for concise writing. Stein is the first expert who explains this subject to my satisfaction. Although he recommends cutting most adjectives and adverbs, he gives examples showing when they are valuable. I like his view. Stein and I both like the following paragraph which is full of adjectives and adverbs. Although a novel filled with this should probably be labeled poetry rather than fiction. Still it shows the emotional and sensual ability of adjectives and adverbs. Stein calls it “a nearly perfect paragraph.” It was written by a student of his, Linda Katmarian.
“Weeds and the low hanging branches of unpruned trees swooshed and thumped against the car while gravel popped loudly under the car’s tires. As the car bumped along, a flock of startled blackbirds exploded out of the brush. For a moment they fluttered and swirled about like pieces of charred paper in the draft of a flame and then were gone. Elizabeth blinked. The mind could play such tricks.”
Stein says “She’s breaking rules. Adjectives and adverbs which normally should be cut are all over the place. They’re used to wonderful effect because she uses the particular sound of words ‘the low hanging branches swooshed and thumped against the car. Gravel popped. Startled blackbirds exploded out of the brush. They fluttered and swirled.’ We experience the road the car is on because the car ‘bumped’ along. What a wonderful image. ‘The birds fluttered and swirled about like pieces of charred paper in the draft of a flame.’ And it all comes together in the perception of the character ‘Elizabeth blinked. The mind could play such tricks.’ Many published writers would like to have written a paragraph that good. That nearly perfect paragraph was ...”
Another example. Stein does not like the sentence “What a lovely, colorful garden.” Lovely is too vague. Colorful is specific therefore better; but lovely and colorful don’t draw us in because we expect a garden to be lovely or colorful. There are several curiosity provoking adjectives you might use. If we hear that a garden is curious, strange, eerie, remarkable, or bizarre, we want to know why. An adjective that piques the reader’s curiosity helps move the story along.
Stein says when you have two adjectives together with one noun, you should almost always delete one of the adjectives. He also recommends eliminating the following words which he calls flab: had, very, quite, poor (unless talking of poverty), however, almost, entire, successive, respective, perhaps, always, and “there is.” Other words can be flab as well.
PARTICULARITY (attentiveness to detail):
I love the following comparison. “You have an envelope? He put one down in front of her.” This exchange is void of particularity. Here’s how the transaction was described by John LeCarre. “You have a suitable envelope? Of course you have. Envelopes were in the third drawer of his desk, left side. He selected a yellow one A4 size and guided it across the desk but she let it lie there.” Those particularities ordinary as they seem help make what she is going to put into the envelope important. The extra words are not wasted because they make the experience possible and credible. (My favorite part: “Of course you have.”)
FLASHBACKS AND SCENES THAT END PREMATURELY:
Stein discourages flashbacks. He says they break the reading experience. They pull the reader out of the story to tell what happened earlier. Yay! I agree! I don’t like them either.
I don’t recall Stein discussing “ending scenes prematurely,” but I think (or hope) he would agree with me that they also “break the reading experience.” For example, Mary walks into a room, hears a noise, and is hit. The next sentence is about another character in another place. Many authors do this to create artificial suspense. It makes me angry, and my anger takes me out of the story because I’m thinking about the author instead of the characters. You can have great suspense without doing this. Stein says “The Day of the Jackal” is famous for use of suspense. The scenes in that book have natural endings.
FIRST THREE PAGES OF A BOOK MAY NOT BE AS CRITICAL AS THEY USED TO BE:
Stein said a “book must grab the reader in the first three pages or they won’t buy the book.” This was based on studies watching customers in book stores. They looked at the jacket and then the first one to three pages. They either put it back or bought it. I think the internet changed things by providing customer reviews. I buy around 240 books a year. I never buy a book based on the first three pages. My decision to buy is based on customer reviews and/or book jacket summaries. I suppose the first three pages might still be important for customers in physical stores like Barnes & Noble and Walmart. But today we have books that become best sellers as ebooks and subsequently are published in paperback, for example Fifty Shades of Grey. Bloggers and reviewers spread the word, not bookstore visitors.
STEIN’S TEN COMMANDMENTS FOR WRITERS:
I’ve edited for brevity and to remove thou shalt’s.
1. Do not sprinkle characters into a preconceived plot. In the beginning was the character. (I like this, but I also think Stephen King has a good idea - something to try. He creates a “situation” first, then the characters, and last the plot.)
2. Imbue your heroes with faults and your villains with charm. For it is the faults of the hero that bring forth his life, just as the charm of the villain is the honey with which he lures the innocent.
3. Your characters should steal, kill, dishonor their parents, bear false witness, and covet their neighbor’s house, wife, man servant, maid servant, and ox. For readers crave such actions and yawn when your characters are meek, innocent, forgiving, and peaceable. (I love this.)
4. Avoid abstractions, for readers like lovers are attracted by particularity.
5. Do not mutter, whisper, blurt, bellow, or scream. Stein prefers using “he said.” (I’m not sure about this one. I like hearing these words. Maybe in moderation?)
6. Infect your reader with anxiety, stress, and tension, for those conditions that he deplores in life, he relishes in fiction.
7. Language shall be precise, clear, and bear the wings of angels for anything less is the province of businessmen and academics and not of writers. (I assume this includes cutting adjectives, adverbs, and flab - but keep the good ones.)
8. “Thou shalt have no rest on the sabbath, for thy characters shall live in thy mind and memory now and forever.” (I’m not sure how this is advice to writers.)
9. Dialogue: directness diminishes, obliqueness sings.
10. Do not vent your emotions onto the reader. Your duty is to evoke the reader’s emotions.
Do not write about wimps. People who seem like other people are boring. Ordinary people are boring.
Cut cliches. Say it new or say it straight.
If not clear who is speaking put “George said” before the statement. If it is clear, put “George said” after or eliminate “George said.”
Don’t use strange spellings to convey dialect or accents.
Book copyright: 1995.
Genre: nonfiction, how to write.
Boy can this author write. I can’t believe after doing so many books, he still comes up with such a good story, and well done, and entertaining. He does NOT use artificial devices to create mystery and suspense. He does NOT use flashbacks, jumping around in time, stopping scenes in the middle to create temporary cliffhangers. There’s no stupidity or characters doing things out of character to create conflict. It’s just a good story, in chronological order, good characters, good dialogue, and I loved the COMPLETE ENDING. It wrapped up well, questions were answered. I had a smile on my face all during the last chapter. Yes that means it was a happy ending. YAY!
I mention things he does NOT do because I am tired of other authors using those gimmicks. And in my opinion the best writing does not use them. And Connelly should be a role model for any suspense author (including romantic suspense which I love but frequently is not well done).
Some fun things in this story: I was intrigued with a scene where two characters were making their way into an unspoken agreement, acting it out on the fly, in front of others, without letting others know what they were doing, and also unsure of it themselves. I chuckled at Mickey’s comments about his clip on ties. I liked this neat character Legal Segal.
I normally do not like first person stories. But Connelly’s I do.
One minor complaint. Someone hired or forced Sewel to stab someone. I wanted to know more about that, who and how.
The narrator Peter Giles was very good.
Genre: legal suspense
Grief, anger, suffering, pain, and being a b**ch to almost everyone.
Jane Litte recommended this on a Podcast. I expect her recommendations to be good for romance lovers, although sometimes I disagree with her. But this was unexpected because there was no “feel good.” Sorry Jane. I call it tragedy women’s fiction with a smithering of romance. But the romance was not good enough to offset the pain, depression, anger, frustration, and dislikeablilty. Kacey is extremely angry and a b**ch throughout the book. She was mean to people who were kind and good to her. Her reason was to protect herself from grief and anger from a car accident which killed people she loved. At 75% my thoughts were “I’m tired of her attitude and issues and pain.” I lost compassion and empathy for her. At this time Trent said to Kacey something about here’s to the next 80 years together. When I heard that I thought “I don’t know why he loves her.”
I cared for Trent. And I hurt for him. He brought tears of sadness to me. I also had tears about something a father did at the end.
I don’t want to read sad books. I would not have bought this had I known what it was about. I want to be entertained and I want to feel good. This was neither.
There are a few sex scenes but they are done with no details and sort of mentioned after the fact. With a couple of them I thought “Oh did they have sex? I must have missed it.” The level of sex is probably ok for young adult readers.
The narrator Elizabeth Louise was good.
Genre: tragedy women’s fiction, new adult
I enjoyed it even though there wasn’t enough plot.
I had trouble with this book. I adored “Mystery Man” book 1 in the Dream Man series. This is book 2, and it just doesn’t compare. It’s like there is nothing to write about. I love the hot guy Brock. I love the way he treats Tess, protects her, takes care of her, and handles her in bed. That’s typical K. Ashley. It’s the best thing about her. But in this book, there’s not enough story and not enough interesting character interaction. The main plot problems are Tess’ ex husband Damien and Brock’s ex wife Olivia. One scene has Tess yelling at Damien repeating things that were said before. It was repetitive and boring. My thoughts were “I know. I heard that before. Let’s get on with the story.”
The main characters were a little older. Tess 43. Brock 45. The sex scenes were hot, nice, good. The f-word and sh** are used a lot.
The reason I bought this was the narrator Kate Russell. She was fantastic doing Mystery Man. She wasn’t as good here but it was because the material wasn’t as good. I will still buy her next book because I was so impressed with how she did Mystery Man - giving a feeling to the heroine that was better than my own interpretation if reading the physical book.
Genre: contemporary romance
I was depressed and grieving. But there is a happy ending.
What could have been a romance story, instead is written as a tragedy. The book starts (the first 14 pages) with Nick married to Budgie in 1938. They are spending the summer next door to Lily. Then through flashbacks we see how Lily and Nick met seven years earlier and fell in love. It was a wonderful love story, but we know they will break up, and Lily is alone and grieving and still loves Nick in 1938. So for 85% of the book I am grieving. I am depressed. And the main mystery and suspense is WHY did they split? I can’t enjoy a developing relationship when I know a bad end is coming - like the Titanic. By the way, readers who liked the Titanic love story will probably like this - readers who have a desire for tears. If it were turned around and written as a romance, it could have been wonderful - for me. The couple meets, falls in love, has a separation, and gets together at the end. But this is the story of WHY did the disaster happen, instead of love, hope, and anticipation about a relationship.
Another problem is the flashback method. The author kept jumping back and forth - with cliffhangers. It was artificial suspense - stopping in the middle of scenes. I would have enjoyed this so much more if it were done in chronological order. The flashbacks and jumping around continued for 85% of the book. A cliffhanger example, page 11: Nick is playing football, is injured and on the ground. We don’t know if he’s dead or alive or what happened, and the scene switches to seven years later.
The reasons for the break up and why Nick married Budgie were kind of stupid. This is one of those “if they would have had a conversation there would have been no break up.” They made assumptions and didn’t talk to each other. They were truly in love which meant they should have cared how the other was feeling and at least attempted a conversation, but they did not.
There was also a plot hole (for me) regarding Lily’s parents. I wanted to see the mother more fleshed out - her motivations, actions, and words. There was a lot going on between the parents and between the parents and Lily that I wanted to see.
Lily was a self-sacrificing helper, naive, clueless, and a little stupid in the sense of putting herself in danger or sacrificing her own needs because she believed someone needed her help - which wasn’t really that helpful or necessary. She needed a friend to say “Come on Lily you need to do this” or “Lily don’t do that.” I’m ok with heroines who are not smart, but I was getting a little tired of her worries about and saying “he/she needs me.”
My favorite part was in the epilogue - what Nick did and why during World War II. I had tears of admiration for him.
The narrator Kathleen McInerney was ok, but I did not like her voice for Graham - oddly hard and forced.
Genre: womens fiction
But the narrator Kate Russell was excellent. She is the only reason I bought this. I plan to listen to most books she narrates.
Harlequin has page limits, and I believe the author just stopped writing when she reached the limit. We don’t know who the main bad guy was. He/she was not discovered or caught at the end. It would have been better to see some of the bad guys’ motivations and actions. This is the first book in the Coltons of Wyoming series. I expect we will find out who the bad guy is in book 2 or book 3 or other. There are other unanswered questions which are set-ups for future books. Readers need patience for this series.
Book 2 in the Coltons of Wyoming series is titled “Colton by Blood.” It’s written by a different author (Melissa Cutler) and has a different narrator.
In book 1, I did not see good relationship development. Gabby and Trevor interact for the first time as they investigate the missing baby. All of a sudden they have sex. I didn’t see desire leading up to it. There was no passion. Then the guy immediately proposes? It felt like the author was thinking “quick throw this in before I run out of pages.”
Error: Once during the text it says the ranch is located in Montana. But Wyoming is on the cover of the book.
Genre: romantic suspense, baby
but 4 ½ stars due to the narrator making the heroine so enjoyable and entertaining.
I was “blown away” by Kate Russell narrating Mystery Man. It made me realize how much I put my own mind set into heroines. I don’t recall laughing with other Kristen Ashley books. But this narrator had me smiling and chuckling - a lot. It’s not comedy, but it’s being surprised due to her emotions and tone. I loved her interpretation of the heroine’s lusty feelings. I might not have liked the heroine as much if I were reading this. She’s kind of flaky. She’s into clothes, expensive shoes, cosmos with the girls, hot guys and their rides. But the narrator had me liking her. It showed me how limiting “my own mind” was.
Most of my laughter and smiling was in the first third of the book when Gwen was being smart-alecky toward Hawk. A favorite line: Hawk pointed at her and said “You. Stay.” She said “I’m not a dog.”
The last third of the book is all lovey-dovey-sweet-words to each other. It’s a sumptuous relationship. Sometimes I complain authors don’t give me enough couple interaction. Well this is way at the other end. He gives her unbelievable gifts, they have lots of great sex, lots of cuddling, meeting the families, getting along great with the families.
There’s some good romantic suspense going on from Gwen’s sister Ginger. Ginger is the wild child thief con woman who has bad guys and good guys after her. The bad guys do bad things to Gwen and her family in their search for Ginger. That part was good in the beginning. But toward the end it was less unusual - kind of been done before. I’d say read this for the lovey dovey and hot sexy relationship - not the suspense plot.
Hawk is hunky gorgeous and sooo sexy. There’s some but not a lot of sexual language. Her golden spot is a phrase used. Regarding swearing, the f-word and sh** are used a lot.
5 stars for Kate Russell. I want to read every thing she does.
Genre: contemporary romance
unless you’ve run out of motorcycle gang stories and really want to read another one.
SUMMARY OF MY THOUGHTS:
Many times during the book I thought “so predictable.” This bad thing is now going to happen. And usually it did. Some of those things were Horse doing something with another woman and Marie walking in, seeing it, being upset. You just knew this was going to happen.
Three different beat-em-up scenes that would have given the story some good action were not shown. They were mentioned after the fact like “we beat him up.” I wanted details. I wanted to see them.
Marie did two STUPID things (to put her in danger) which were not justified. A rival gang plans to kidnap Marie, so Horse and his buddies are guarding her. So why does Marie ditch her security guys and go off by herself alone? Twice? In one scene, Marie was babysitting a little girl who was tired and needed to go home and Marie didn’t want to interrupt the others. In another scene, a woman asked Marie to give her a ride home because she said everyone else was drunk except Marie. Marie said ok. And then a guy who had attacked Marie earlier joins her in giving the lady a ride home. Well, why not let that guy give the lady a ride? Why does Marie have to leave the safe place and join in giving the lady a ride? And Marie doesn’t tell Horse where she’s going and with whom? Her reason is she didn’t want to interrupt Horse’s mourning (at a funeral event). I was annoyed.
Some readers complained that Marie was wish-washy, no backbone, did inconsistent things. I was ok with that. It’s just a character type. I don’t require all heroines to be strong and smart. I just don’t like stupidity to move the plot, like above.
By comparison I read Mystery Man by K. Ahsley right after this - a world of difference. It also is a girl falling for a biker. From the very beginning of that book, I was smiling many times. It was fun. I don’t think I smiled once during Reaper’s Property. And the narrator of Mystery Man was fabulous (Kate Russell) - so much better than the narrator of Reaper’s Property. It’s possible a different narrator might have allowed me to like this book better.
TWO GOOD PARTS:
This is a motorcycle club book. It reminds me of romance novels about werewolf packs because of the way they treat women and mark them. That was a good part. Here’s an excerpt describing it.
Marie asks what “old lady” means. Horse says “It’s a term of respect. Seriously a biker’s old lady is like his wife. She is his woman, his property, and if any one fucks with her, the entire club will come down on them hard.”
“Property?” I asked wrinkling my nose. “That sounds even worse.”
“You don’t get it” he said shaking his head. “Things are different in the outside world. But the club is a tribe. If a woman isn’t claimed she’s fair game, but when a biker brands her as his property she’s untouchable.”
Aside from the werewolf similarity, it reminded me of city gangs with their drug business and gang wars. That view was a little less interesting.
Sex scenes were very good - hot and lusty - and a lot of them. They include rear door activity, sex in public, group sex, and self pleasuring.
MORE BAD PARTS:
I hated the beginning. The author jumped back and forth in time so that two good scenes from the future would be in the beginning - I assume to keep the reader interested. It was a gimmick. Apparently the author feared readers might think it was too slow. I hated the jumping. I had to take notes to remember the time line and who knew what and when. Reading should not require taking notes.
The author had Horse be with other women which did not fit his motivations. He paid off Marie’s brother’s debt ($50,000) so he could get Marie as his girl. So why would he have a lap dance a couple days later with someone else, that Marie would see and be upset about?. Later Marie was all alone in a room at the club waiting for Horse. So why does Horse go to a private room with former sex partner Serena for a beer? And then he is patting Serena’s body after she spills a drink on herself. Of course Marie walks in on them. This was not interesting. In both cases the reader is predicting this - just waiting for it to happen on the next page.
I contrast this with Undeniable where the biker had sex with other women all the time, even while the heroine was pregnant and living with him. That fit the biker and his motivations. That was his way. I’m not sure he would give that up even after the happy ending. But Horse wasn’t planning sex with other women, he was just doing something that would “look bad” if Marie saw it. She would misunderstand and get all upset. It was contrived and predictable.
I had major problems with the narrator Stella Bloom.
1. She sounded like a chick lit reader - like she was reading “Sex In The City” type characters. She was too glib and smooth. It took away from identifying with the heroine.
2. She read as if she were reading something humorous, but it was the wrong tone which made it less humorous. It reminded me of someone telling a joke they think is really funny, and they laugh as they tell it, but that makes it less funny, and the listener is annoyed because listener is not laughing. Some jokes are better when delivered in a deadpan voice - think Steven Wright. Not that this narrator should have been deadpan, but her tone was wrong.
3. She was not a good fit for tough macho biker men. In their meetings they sounded like a bunch of women talking, not men. The narrator needed a different emotional feel and tone for the men. Horse the macho hero sounded like a suburban teenage boy. Picnic the president of the bikers club sounded like a leprechaun.
Genre: contemporary romance, motorcycle
The last two hours were edge-of-your-seat-could-not-stop-reading.
Windy (female) is the main character forensics expert. She reminded me of Sherlock Holmes in a couple scenes. Her observations impressed me. There were a lot of good ideas in the clues and ways of solving of the mystery. There was a red herring and I was ok with that.
I like third person. We are inside the killer’s head but we don’t know who the killer is until the last quarter of the book.
A negative for some readers is harm to children. Charles does horrible things to his wife and stepson. The killer gets a mother to do what the killer wants by holding a knife to her children. Another mother is terrified as the killer threatens her daughter. Harm to children is a guaranteed way to make readers feel terror, hurt, pain, fear.... but I’d rather not read about it. Some back story showing abuse to a child causing the child to become a killer is ok, but there was a lot more than that which bothered me. If you’re ok with that, it’s an excellent book for mystery lovers. The crimes are graphic and gory - if that is a concern.
Some things were not answered and I wanted to know.
1. The killer captured character A. Character B shows up which saves A’s life. The author never said how character B knew where to go and when.
2. One character C changed their name. How did C do that, when, and why? Some characters knew C’s old name and I assume the new name. How was that working?
3. What ever happened to Charles?
There is a happy ending. And toward the end a romantic relationship occurs, but it is a minor part of the story. This is not for romance readers because not enough is done with that relationship.
The cover is a bad mismatch. It looks like chick lit. It should be changed to something dark and serious.
The narrator Teri Clark Linden was very good. I didn’t notice her which means I wasn’t thinking about her and taken out of the story.
Genre: mystery suspense thriller
I have more patience with audiobooks and that’s the only reason I kept with it and finished. I felt like the author made a detailed outline and then colored-it-in-between-the-lines, trying to make it interesting. I felt no chemistry about the characters. I wasn’t interested in them. The flow wasn’t good. I didn’t see enough motivations. I’m still vague about why the bad guy did some of the things he did and what happened to him at the end. Some of the conflicts felt forced.
I kept thinking of Saturday morning cartoons for kids. There are many interesting and neat things artists and animators could draw. The action and crises would make a good cartoon.
Who will like this? Probably readers who love the steampunk world and urban fantasy. There are interesting ideas about metal grafted onto human bodies, nano agents, coal fired air ships, a mechanical whale, and riding inside walking-trolls-robot-type-things.
There is a back story about a women-only village and women loving women. Annika is open to finding romance with either a man or woman. Not much is done with that topic, but it may interest some - or not.
As to male-female romance, it was there, but I wasn’t feeling it.
I was not pleased with the narrator Alison Larkin. She made the heroine sound like a little girl instead of a woman.
Genre: steampunk romance.
but the ending was vague, unfinished, and made me mad, so it comes down a star.
I really enjoyed parts of this. I was chuckling several times. I liked the nerd Don. He is somewhere on the autism or Asperger spectrum, but he is very high functioning. He is a genetics professor. He meets Rosie who wants to know who her biological father is and Don offers to help. They collect DNA samples and he runs them through equipment. This was fun, watching nerdy Don trying for stealth in collecting samples. One funny scene was when Don memorized cocktail recipes so he could be a waiter at a function to collect DNA from drinking glasses. But he was so successful in memorizing the guests names and suggesting cocktails for them that he was the life of the party and offered a job afterwards. And to his surprise he enjoyed himself. Yes I liked this book.
But I was mad at the end. I hate authors being vague. I had to reread the last few lines three times to try to figure out who the biological father was. Don collected some DNA that Rosie didn’t know about. Don ran them through the machine and said “it’s a match.” But he didn’t say who the guy was. I was supposed to figure it out because it was a sample from a particular thing collected in a previous scene, but I wasn’t 100% sure. I know many readers will say “it was obvious.” But not to me. And then what is worse, I didn’t see Rosie’s reaction to the news. I wanted a few pages of her reaction, her thinking, or maybe even her interacting with that person. And I wanted more explanation from Don about earlier inaccurate assumptions. But no. It’s over. I enjoyed the process of the entire book, but the ending made me so mad that I’m still in a bad mood two days later.
Technically this was a romance. I enjoyed seeing the couple interact and how things developed. I didn’t see any emotional desire, but that was ok because the story and humor were good.
A secondary subject was Don’s questionnaire for women to fill out. He was looking for a life partner. His reactions to women were funny. He eliminated one woman because she wouldn’t eat eggs. He eliminated another because she was late. He called her late woman and didn’t care to ask her any other questions.
The narrator Dan O’Grady was excellent. I think it might be better to hear this as an audiobook than to read it. He makes Don more entertaining than my own mind would.
Genre: humorous contemporary romance, nerd
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