“Writing Fiction for Dummies,” by Randy Ingermanson

Timeless_Books_co2_1200pxWriting Fiction for Dummies” is written by Randy Ingermanson, a writer who has published six novels and received a number of prizes. In addition, he is a physicist.

It can be easy to be scared away because this is a “for Dummies” book. Maybe I’m a “Dummy,” but I like this book!

The fact that the author is a physicist is by no means at all a problem, I think rather the opposite: The art of creative writing has been thoroughly dissected and Ingermanson has an educational ability that makes the book very easy to understand.

It’s a bit like creative writing has been transformed from an act of magic and mystery to a craft that certainly requires hard work but can definitely be carried out, even by a Dummy.

Some theories from the book

One of the theories mentioned is that a literary text can be considered to have multiple layers, from the very top and the basic idea (eg “A Hobbit must save the world by throwing his magic ring into Mount Doom”) to the lowest level consisting of words and paragraphs, plus additional layers between these two.

Different ways to show action are also covered (for example, by dialogue or action), as well as how and why you would like to tell (the opposite of showing), but also why you should rather show than tell—no, it has nothing to do with Hollywood bang bang rather, it is easier to make the reader feel when showing and that it is because of the feelings readers read books. If the reader wanted an intellectual experience—as narratives often give—they would have bought a factbook rather than fiction.

Different ways to write a book

Something I never thought of before reading this book is that authors can write a book in different ways. Some start by writing their first draft on pure inspiration and then create order and structure, others start with a detailed outline and write the scenes based on that.

This is a very liberating discussion if you feel uncertain of how to write or when your favorite author writes in a way you do not have the capacity for yourself.

Ingermanson lists four ways to write books but also points out (which is typical of his whole approach to writing) that none of the ways are better than the other. Which way that works best depends on who you are as a person and how you handle the different challenges and problems inherent in each writing method.

Discussing the pros and cons are typical of the book’s approach. I would like to say that it gives permission to do everything within the writing, and it discusses the consequences of making different choices. This is done without being all over the place.

One of the writing paradigms listed is Ingermanson’s own Snowflake method, described on his website. This page is also a good example of the pedagogy that permeates this book. Read it even if you are not an “outliner.”

Criticism

One criticism I have of this book is that it almost requires reading quite a few fictional books, or you risk thinking that writing can be formalized in the way the book to some extent does. If you only have a lot of reading in your luggage, the formalism of the book becomes clarifying and a skeleton to keep up everything you already understood through fictional reading.

There is probably no problem at all to read “Writing Fiction for Dummies” first and then read a few shelf meters of fiction. I also think that even experienced authors can gain something from reading this book.

The other problem (for me, being from Sweden) is that the book is written for an English / American readership and I am not sure the sections that concern the publishing industry and how to communicate with them is actually relevant to a Swedish market (or any other non-American market, for that matter).

However, this is not the main focus of the book. But, even if you’re not writing for the American market writing a full synopsis and the like can be good practice in presenting your text. Perhaps your publisher/teacher/agent will be happy if you know how to write them too?

Summary

I would definitely recommend “Writing Fiction for Dummies”! If you are a beginner wanting to scratch the surface of creative writing or if you are an accomplished writer wanting to get a fresh perspective on writing, this book has something to offer.


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