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Book Review - Story Sparks by Denise Jaden

New World Library
ISBN: 1608685098
Paperback - $12.16
Ebook: $9.99

If you are searching for a new idea for a new book in this New Year, this resource will be of great benefit. In the introduction of Story Sparks, the author states that “idea gathering is a highly learnable skill.” Then she goes on to help writers hone that skill with her advice and exercises.

The book is divided into several parts in which specific suggestions are given to help writers find their ideas for story, for character and for setting. Part one is where Jaden explains what S.P.A.R.K. stands for: Seek, Passion, Allies, Resonance, Kinetic energy.

Seek: Not just new story ideas but things that will help make those stories stronger. Jaden gives many suggestions for strengthening our skills of observation, noting details of places and people that we can use to make our characters and settings “visible” to our readers.

Passion:  We should always be writing about something that we have a great deal of passion for as that will translate to the page and the reader will then be connected to our story. Jaden encourages writers to first think about what they are most passionate about and write short pieces about those things. Not necessarily to use in a story, but just to identify situations and things that generate strong feelings. Then the writer can translate those feelings to the page.

Allies: Jaden encourages writers to seek out friends that you can go to for help in brainstorming a story idea or talk over a plot point that has gotten you stuck. Or it can be an organized critique group that you meet with on a regular basis, either in a real time or online. Through the years, I have found it extremely helpful to have such resources, and the beauty of being in a community of writers, whether it is online or in real time, is how supportive and helpful everybody is.

Resonance: “What resonates with readers shifts with the culture.” Jaden explains how writers can’t simply try to ride the wave of what is popular in fiction today. Many seasoned writers know this, but beginners often think they can write the next Twilight or Harry Potter book and be successful. Jaden points out the fact that those trends have played out and it is time for something new.

Kinetic Energy:  “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if on most days you could sit down and feel like your book, at least in part, is writing itself? That’s what kinetic energy and engagement are about. Kinetic energy starts with the first bout of excitement you feel over and idea, and it continues until a reader picks up your book, and even beyond.” Jaden believes that the writer reaches this point of having kinetic energy after going through the other steps in the S.P.A.R.K program.

Finding story ideas and adding depth to the tension and drama in the story take up the major part of this book, and that material is organized in sections that are easy to navigate. There are plenty of exercises to help the writer generate ideas, and I particularly liked that she included my favorite form of brainstorming which is asking the question "What if?"

Jaden outlines five important guidelines for brainstorming:   Number one - there are no bad ideas. Write down every single thing. Number two  - your instincts are more important than you usually give them credit for. Number three - it is often not a single idea but the connection between two or more ideas that gives us our "aha" moments. Number four - use free writing or writing prompts when you are stuck. Number five - dream big and wild. Don’t limit yourself or feel like you have to be 100% realistic while brainstorming.

There are five appendices in the book that are most helpful, and I will be using them often. The first is a comprehensive list of names of people. It includes unusual male and female names so we don’t have to name every male character Bill. The second appendix does the same thing with names of places. Number three is a comprehensive list of motives and the fourth lists obstacles that we can use to complicate our story ideas. The last one is a list of story themes that can be very helpful in the early part of developing a story idea because all stories have a theme.

This is a good book for all beginning writers, but it also contains enough helpful suggestions and resources that a seasoned writer would find it well worth the price of admission.

Reviewed by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor, and sometimes actress. Maryann has written a number of mysteries, including the critically-acclaimed Season Mystery Series that debuted with Open Season. She has also written many other books, short stories, plays and screenplays. Information about all of that and her editing rates is available on her website.  


  1. I like this post, Maryann. I especially like the Seek spark. My critique partner is always asking me, Where are they? What's the setting? I get caught up in dialogue and forget to "set the stage." These are good prompts and ideas. Thanks for the post.

  2. This is an interesting post because it lays out a lot of what we do instinctively in an organized and practical way. Creating and filing good notes in all the areas addressed can certainly benefit us as we take the journey from story concept to creation and on to conclusion. Thank you for sharing, Maryann — it's a keeper.

  3. I've just shared the link with the author. Hope she stops by. And I agree - there are NO bad ideas. Save them all.

  4. Thanks so much for your wonderful review! So glad to hear you have found Story Sparks so useful.

    1. You're welcome, Denise. Your book is such a good resource and so well written.

  5. Having friends and contacts, especially in the genre you work in, is the single most valuable asset for a writer. Joining communities and genre-based groups provides not only insight but marketing assistance.


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