Book Review: Writing Fiction for Dummies

Issue 61

Book Review:

Writing Fiction for Dummies

by Randy Ingermanson

and Peter Economy

Reviewed by Valerie Comer

Copyright © 2011, Valerie Comer, All Rights Reserved


If you were able to study only one book on the process and business of novel writing, I'd recommend Writing Fiction for Dummies. Like me, you may have read dozens of tomes on how-to-write and found most of them to be too complicated, too simple, or just plain impractical or even boring.


Ingermanson, an award-winning novelist and the creator of the Snowflake system, teamed together with Economy, a veteran author of 'Dummies' books, to create this all-encompassing writers' guide that is broken systematically into five parts.


Part I: Getting Ready to Write Fiction

In this section, the authors present an overview of the five pillars of great fiction (setting, characters, plot, theme, and style) and demonstrate how to use these to create a powerful emotional experience for your reader. Also included is a discussion on finding your audience and category, and how that relates to the preparation work. An additional chapter discusses time management and writing spaces.


Where many books divide writers into two camps--plotters and pantsers--Ingermanson and Economy describe four writing styles: writing without planning or editing, editing as you go, planning a little/writing a little, and outlining before you write. They lay out the concept that most writers don't fall at either extreme, but someplace along the continuum. Not only are the styles described but the benefits and downfalls of each are noted, with issues particular to that style. Personally, the breakdown in this book helped me to identify the way my own brain works, providing me with some tools to make the best of it.


Part II: Creating Compelling Fiction

This section takes a deeper look at the five pillars of fiction. The chapter on story world covers everything from research, to choosing the right backdrop for your story's conflict, to using your understanding of your story world to sell your book. Characters and theme are each awarded a full chapter.


Plot is covered in three chapters. Top layers include basic plotting and summarizing, which can be summed up in the three-act structure of beginning, middle, and end. This chapter also teaches how to intersperse the three major disasters evenly into your plot. When you approach the middle layers of plot, you'll work on synopsis, scene lists, and understanding the components of scenes. The lowest level of plot includes the nuts-and-bolts of action, dialogue, emotion, monologue, description, flashback, and narrative summary, as well as a discussion of showing and telling.


Breaking down the plot concept into these three layers should help the writer not to get bogged down in details without understanding the bigger picture.


Part III: Editing and Polishing Your Story and Characters

One chapter is dedicated to analyzing characters after the first draft to make sure they're as strong and consistent as they could be. Editing the story takes up three chapters, one for structural analysis, one for scene structure, and one for scene content, again looking at the issues from global to fine detail.


Part IV: Getting Published

The authors provide an overview of the steps to publication, starting with polishing and critiquing, and carrying on to query letters and proposals. There is a section comparing traditional publication to self-publication and a chapter devoted to researching, and approaching agents and editors.


The submission chapter is laid out in a logical, clear-cut manner, setting hopeful writers on their chosen path with a useful map.


Part V: The Part of Tens

This short section contains two chapters. One lists ten steps to analyzing your story, and the other shares ten reasons novels are rejected.


In summary, Ingermanson's readable and humorous teaching style blends well with Economy's expertise in the 'Dummies' realm, ensuring that this book will be entertaining and useful for anyone interested in the nuts and bolts of writing as a business. People willing to learn are definitely not dummies!


Writing Fiction for Dummies
For Dummies: 2009
ISBN: 9780470530702