Book Review: Master Lists For Writers, by Bryn Donovan

I tend to categorize writing books into one of two sets — personal experience about technique, and raw collections.

They’re both very valuable, but in different ways. One ends up being like a lecture or discussion with other writers, and one ends up being a reference tool for a wordsmith, frequently used and thumbed through to get past the most elemental of writing problems. “Wait, what does this mean?” You look up the definition of the word. “I’ve used ‘illness’ three times in this paragraph.” You look for synonyms.

Master Lists For Writers is another level of tool in this category, however, because it’s collected intelligently and has a wide range of application. It’s more a toolbox, less a specific use tool.

Sorting things alphabetically makes sense for single words, but we don’t write single words — we write sentences, and we don’t always have the luxury of using ‘disease’ for ‘illness’ or writing that someone’s eyes were ‘crimson’ instead of ‘red’. Master Lists For Writers contains vast resource of actions, quirks, names, tendencies, and errata, and most important, they’re sorted by their use.

There are tools covering aspects of a half dozen different popular historical settings, but most of these items are literally timeless, activities almost any character could engage in. You need a job for an extra, or even for a main character? There’s a list for that. You need a character quirk and you’ve already poured most of your own into half a dozen characters? There’s a list of character quirks, ready to go. Positive traits? A list. Negative traits? A list. Traits that could go either way? There’s a list. As the toolbox metaphor would indicate, there are a lot of things in this book that are common, go-to problems, ones that I find myself solving through twentysome minutes of fiddling, looking up lists, looking up synonyms, or simply spitballing randomly. There’s no tool or toolbox that can eliminate your need for ingenuity or research, but Master Lists For Writers covers a big chunk of the wigglier problems I encounter writing. Turning twenty or more minutes into five means writing faster, with less interruption in workflow — and that’s valuable to any writer.

The very end of the book even has a motivation summary — 10 Reasons Why You Should Write That Story — that encapsulates a lot of the things that tend to be regurgitated off and on in the “personal experience” kind of resources.

Master Lists For Writers is available for 4.99 on Amazon, and considering it’ll chop your struggling time significantly, it’s worth the investment.

(Disclaimer: I received an advance review copy of Master Lists For Writers.)