The Art of War for Writers

The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell

Review by Sherry D. Ramsey

In many ways, sitting down to write a novel (to say nothing of publishing it much later), is like an act of war. Every scene is a battle (sometimes every page, or even every paragraph), and only the most competent warriors and generals will emerge victorious. James Scott Bell takes these analogies and applies Sun Tzu’s famous work to the life of being a writer, with interesting results.

I enjoyed this slim volume, although if you have read a lot of other books/articles on writing, you may not find much new here. Still, its organization and modelling on The Art of War is interesting, and there are numerous nuggets of good advice, particularly on a topic which many new writers can use–dealing with others in a professional manner. Bell looks at all aspects of writing a novel, from developing the initial idea, to defining characters, to plotting, and beyond that to the submission process and even dealing with rejection. He uses examples from his own writing career and experiences to ground the advice in real life, and has fun with the premise of the book. The tone overall is friendly, encouraging, and practical.

Definitely recommended for aspiring writers, and even those more seasoned may find the style and content helpful.

About the Author: Sherry D. Ramsey is a writer, editor, podcaster, and facilitator of the Quillians Writing Workshop. You can visit her elsewhere on the web at

The Writer’s Bookshelf

Almost every writer has that shelf or pile of writing reference books—the ones they won’t part with, hate to loan out, and go back to time and again. They’ll be different for every writer, but we thought you might want to know our take on a few essentials. If these books are not on your shelf, you might want to give them a try:

Elements of Fiction Writing – Scene & Structure, by Jack M. Bickham (Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio ISBN 0-89879-551-6)

A Passion for Narrative: A Guide to Writing Fiction – Revised Edition, by Jack Hodgins (McClelland & Stewart Ltd., Toronto, Ontario ISBN 0-7710-4198-5)

Elements of Fiction Writing – Characters & Viewpoint, by Orson Scott Card, (Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio ISBN 0-89879-307-6)

Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, by Mignon Fogarty (Henry Holt and Co, New York, ISBN 978-0805088311)

The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition, by Christopher Vogler (Michael Wiese Productions, California ISBN 0-941188-70-1)

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print, by Dave King & Renni Browne (HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., New York, New York ISBN 0-06-272046-5)

Creating Short Fiction: The Classic Guide to Writing Short Fiction, by Damon Knight (St. Martin’s Press, New York, New York ISBN 0-312-15094-6)

Beginnings, Middles and Ends (Elements of Fiction Writing), by Nancy Kress (Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio ISBN 0-89879-550-8)

The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life, by Noah Lukeman (St. Martin’s Press, New York, New York ISBN 0-312-30928-7)

Word Work: Surviving and Thriving As a Writer, by Bruce Holland Rogers (Invisible Cities Press, Montpelier, Vermont ISBN 1-931229-17-1)

Got a great writing book recommendation you’d like to share? Leave it in the comments!

Photo credit: jdurham

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