Category Archives: Author’s Perspective

Book Review: Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson & Peter Economy

This book is for you if:
You’re new at plotting and you don’t know where to begin;
You want a concise yet usable refresher course on plotting, character and world  building;
You’re revising your novel; and
Especially if you’re a pantster!

Writing Fiction for Dummies is all about making sure your novel has all the right components for success. As author Randy Ingermanson says in his opening notes in Snowflake Pro, a design program for novelists:

Good fiction doesn’t just happen, it is designed. You can do the design work before or after you write your novel. I’ve done it both ways and I’ve found that doing it first is quicker and leads to a better result for me. But you may find that doing your design after you write your novel works better for you. It doesn’t really matter when you do your design work, as long as you do it.

And this book covers all aspects of the writing from finding your target audience, to choosing your creative paradigm, using the principles of powerful plot, editing and getting published.  However, it’s not for dummies – it gives credit that the reader is intelligent by succinctly providing information and tips. I like that I don’t have to read an entire book on character or plot or revision and then have to distill the information I need.  Plus, the book has great examples to illustrate each point.

These authors are masters in taking you through the steps logically. For example, Part II: Creating Compelling Fiction takes you from building your story world, to creating compelling characters, plot layers and examining theme. Part III gives you the tools to edit and polish your work by analyzing characters, story and scene structure and then editing scenes for content.

Truly, I always thought I was a panster at heart until I realized that I was simply plotting and outlining in my head. Writing fiction for Dummies has given me the tools to put those points on paper. Now my plots are multi layered, my characters are deeper and I don’t have the headache from keeping all that information in my head! I still can’t write a detailed outline – it’s just not me. But, I’m a more organized pantster now who has lots more fun brainstorming the deeper “what if?’ scenarios.

I’ve started a new series and I can’t keep five books worth of information in my head. Chapter 8: Story Line and Three-Act Structure is my starting point for the basics and I brainstorm from there. I planned the big picture first – key points for the beginning, murky middle, climax and ending for each novel.  Now I have an idea of plot arc, character arcs, emotional arcs and where each story in the series needs to end. I still have lots of room for random creativity as my characters take me on unexpected turns in their journeys and I can let them do that with confidence because I know I have enough of a plan so that key story elements aren’t derailed. Most importantly, I know that if the novels grow in unexpected ways, I can revise the plan because as our characters evolve, so do we as writers and so must our plan.

Whether you’re writing your first or tenth novel, revising your draft or reviewing, Writing Fiction for Dummies is a resource every writer must have. It’s a quick reference guide filled with checklists and thought provoking questions on critical elements … and I can hardly wait for the revision process because now I know what I’m doing!

Happy writing and revising! It’s always a joy to create!

To learn more about authors Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy, visit their sites at:

Book Review: The Emotion Thesaurus

We’ve all heard about showing instead of telling. It’s one of the things my editor catches me on all the time. I end up grousing and repeating the words of Princes Leia Carrie Fisher from When Harry Met Sally. “You’re right. You’re right. I know you’re right.”

Check out this example:
Anger filled Danny as he strode through the room. He was looking for Shiv. If he ever found his friend, he’d give him a piece of his mind.
There’s a lot of telling about Danny’s emotions in that paragraph. To make the storytelling more interesting, I’m going to turn to The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

The Emotion Thesaurus is a wonderful reference book that’s organized by emotions like amazement, confidence, gratitude, and shame. Each entry has a long list of behavioral cues authors can use to show instead of tell.

When I look up anger in The Emotion Thesaurus I see lists of 36 physical signals like “flaring nostrils”, “Slamming doors, cupboards, or drawers”, and “laughter with an edge”. After that is a list of internal sensations, mental responses, and cues of suppressed anger. All of these offer inspiration to unlock ideas of how I can show my character’s anger.

How about this:
Chin held high and jaw clenched, Danny shouldered through the crowd. He scanned through the room for Shiv. Curses boiled in his mind, building and building in pressure. The only thing that kept him from punching one of these idiots was knowing how happy Shiv would be to see him get thrown in jail for battery.

I built this new version by consulting The Emotion Thesaurus. I didn’t use the entries word for word. Instead, I riffed on them, used them for inspiration.

Check out The Emotion Thesaurus at or Barnes and Noble.

Libraries & Writers Groups ““ A Partnership made in Reader Heaven

Guest Post by Holly Paxson

You’re a writer. You know the joys and agony of transforming that blank page into something creative and new. But you’re tired of slogging away at the keyboard on your own. Maybe you’re a brand-new writer who isn’t sure where to go after those first few pages, maybe you’re an experienced master of prose who needs a fresh environment to break a block. Whatever the reason, you’ve decided you want to join a writer’s group, perhaps even start one of your own. So how do you go about it?

A great place to start is your local public library. In addition to the helpful books and other resources on writing, libraries often provide free meeting room space for writing groups to meet, or perhaps already run such a group as a library-sponsored program.  Libraries host everything from weekly critique groups to full-fledged day-long writers workshops complete with published-author instructors and tips on getting published. And almost always, these programs and workshops are completely free.

If your local library doesn’t have any kind of writers program or group, then you may wish to consider starting one. First, think about what kind of group you’d like. A small critique group? A large organization where members share presentations on writing and form critique partnerships on the side? Think about how often you’d like to meet, and, if you don’t already have a group of writers ready to join you, consider how you’ll get the word out that your writers group exists.

Once you’ve considered these questions, then, go to your local library. See what kind of meeting space they have available. Will you need to commandeer a table in a quiet corner, or does the library have a meeting room you can reserve? What is the room’s capacity, and how often is it available? Ideally, the availability of the library’s space will work with what you’ve envisioned for your group.

You may even wish to approach the library staff, to see if they’d like to work with you to make your writers group a library-sponsored program. When libraries sponsor programs, they can provide advertising to promote your group to help recruit members, sometimes even provide funds to assist with workshops or presenters. Typically, all that the library asks for in return is that participation in the writers group be free and open to the public.

Libraries can also support the work of your group’s published authors, to varying degrees. For those who wish to get their work into the library’s collection, the best way is to ask the library what their criteria are for accepting books. Some libraries can’t add books that have been self-published, or are only available in ebook form; others can. Some libraries have special donated local author collections, which allow any local author to donate a copy of their book for the community to borrow and read. Some libraries will sponsor special author receptions or book-signings to help promote local authors, or will allow books to be sold in associated Friends of the Library bookstores or booksales.

More than ever, libraries today are community hubs and busier than ever. As an institution supported by your tax dollars, they exist to be used, to provide resources, and to bring people together. For your writers group, a partnership with your local library can be invaluable. So how do you know what your local library can do for you?

All you have to do is ask them.

Holly Paxson has worked (and written!) in public libraries for the past nineteen years. She currently manages a branch of the Timberland Regional Library in Lacey, Washington, where she is hard at work on her next book.

Book Review: Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder

The subtitle of Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder is The Last Book on Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need. So why, in the midst of NaNoWriMo, am I recommending a book on screenwriting?

It’s because this is the book I wish I’d read when I was writing my first novel, which I did during NaNo in 2011. Why? Because Save the Cat! provides a story structure template that is both more specific than the three act structure and not so comprehensive that one feels overwhelmed by the model itself. This makes it the perfect story craft entry point for newbies and a great reference for veterans.

Based on Snyder’s experience as a pro screenwriter and his analysis of hit movies, STC details a sequence of 15 beats that every good screenplay must have. These beats overlays the three act structure and work as a sort of connect-the-dots framework. You can download the Save the Cat beat sheet for free from:

Snyder would insist you not start writing until you figure out all 15 beats. If you do, you’ll end up with a high level outline for your story. This is a great start for outliners.

If you’re a pantser, the STC model can still be of great use for analyzing your finished first draft and troubleshooting story problems. Alternatively, if you get mired down and can’t figure out how to get unstuck, the template may give you some ideas.

An important part of the STC methodology is creating what Snyder calls “the board.” The board is a layout of index cards (no more than 40) that lets you see how your story fits together. When I used this method on my most recent novel, I was shocked to find I had an overloaded second act and a very thin third act. With this insight, I identified an alternative Midpoint (one of the 15 beats) that had better dramatic effect than what I’d originally planned. This allowed me to shift some things to act three and unlocked the story for me. I was off to the races.

NaNoWriMo is a big challenge, and if you’re like most, getting your daily word count is a hard enough without having to also read about story craft. But if your up for it, go Save the Cat!

Buy Save the Cat at Amazon,Barnes and Noble, and other fine bookstores.