"Writing Fiction for Dummies" provides a solid and comprehensive overview of the subject. The chapters are subdivided into sections that deal in turn with different aspects of how to produce a manuscript from start to finish. The book concentrates mostly on two key aspects: the technique of how to structure a novel - the overall skeleton of a book - into three main sections or acts, each consisting of numerous scenes, which can be proactive or reactive; and how to "work the manuscript", covering in generous detail the literary devices available to the novelist in giving life to the story and the characters through their writing - such as dialogue, narrative summary, action, or interior monologue, to name a few of the possibilities - and how to use each effectively. The reader also learns through detailed examples about point-of-view (POV) strategies and characters, and the difference between showing and telling. "Writing Fiction for Dummies" also covers such essentials as how to edit and polish your manuscript; how to decide what genre your novel is and what your target audience is; how to target a literary agent, acquisitions editor or critique group; what a storyline, synopsis and executive summary (and other essentials) are, why they are needed and how to produce winning ones; the most common reasons why manuscripts get rejected; and urges the reader (nicely!) into an essential but often overlooked in-depth analysis of their own manuscript.
This book is written in a very approachable style with a generous helping of humour.
There are so many good things in this book that it is difficult to single out topics for special praise, but one that I particularly appreciated was learning how to write an effective storyline. This is a subject which is covered in considerable detail with numerous examples. It sounds easy, but it actually needs a great deal of thought to do well! I also found it interesting (although perhaps not essential) to learn about the different approaches to writing a novel and to discover which I happen to use. The section entitled "Getting Published" was invaluable, and in terms of time and effort, this book has paid for itself many times over with the advice it gives.
Book reviews are of course highly subjective, but two chapters which for me did not work as well as the rest of the book were on the subjects of finding your category, and time management. I personally did not feel the need for advice on time management in this book, and while the advice given is sound, it seems so obvious. Of course you need a conducive writing corner that works for you - and if you are serious about writing, you make time for it somehow. I work full-time, so I only have the weekends in which to fit in some writing time. If I don't feel particularly creative one weekend, I don't write: as simple as that. I don't feel the necessity to write x number of words every day. What I'm trying to say is, where and when to write should be intuitive, common sense.
The other section of the book where I would have appreciated a little more detail and guidance is in how to decide the category and subcategory of a manuscript. Some are easy to categorise, but others are harder: for example, with a romantic novel, what are the guidelines to knowing whether the book should be categorised under "romance", rather than "general fiction" with a strong romantic theme? I know the authors refer the reader to "Publisher's Weekly" for the answer, but I would have found it helpful to have a more detailed "How to categorise your novel" guide.
In summary, I strongly recommend this book to anyone starting out as a novelist. Since this book is general in scope, I think that many writers would want to go on to read a more specialised text on writing in their specific genre, but "Writing Fiction for Dummies" provides such an excellent and thorough introduction that the reader will derive far more benefit from any subsequent book on the subject from having read this one first.
I also heartily endorse Dr. Ingermanson's free e-zine on fiction writing.