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Put the Cat In the Oven Before You Describe the Kitchen: A Concise, No-Bull Guide To Writing Fiction

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There are hundreds of fantastic books about writing, but most of them are boring, complicated, or bogged down by filler. This little book is brief and easy to understand. It won’t bore you with mundane grammar rules or the crap you learn in English class, but offers concrete suggestions on how to improve your writing.


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There are hundreds of fantastic books about writing, but most of them are boring, complicated, or bogged down by filler. This little book is brief and easy to understand. It won’t bore you with mundane grammar rules or the crap you learn in English class, but offers concrete suggestions on how to improve your writing.

30 review for Put the Cat In the Oven Before You Describe the Kitchen: A Concise, No-Bull Guide To Writing Fiction

  1. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    I'm not a writer, but enjoyed reading it anyway. Probably not much new here to experienced writers, but it's condensed and to the point. Perhaps a good reminder of things you already know, but haven't been focusing on recently. My favorite point that I've lately been noticing as a reader is Sacrifice Surprise for Suspense. Twists are all the rage, but it's so much more engaging to drop hints, or outright reveal an impending conflict, and leave the reader in anticipation. The one tip I was half-expe I'm not a writer, but enjoyed reading it anyway. Probably not much new here to experienced writers, but it's condensed and to the point. Perhaps a good reminder of things you already know, but haven't been focusing on recently. My favorite point that I've lately been noticing as a reader is Sacrifice Surprise for Suspense. Twists are all the rage, but it's so much more engaging to drop hints, or outright reveal an impending conflict, and leave the reader in anticipation. The one tip I was half-expecting but didn't see, if I were to add my own two cents, would be an extension of the Show Don't Tell + Suspense rule - Don't Spell It Out. Whether at the story or sentence level, there is a rush when the dots connect and the reader understands the implication. Like a pop song, dopamine fires at both the anticipation and resolution. Indirect is almost always more satisfying. The first simple sentence-level example that came to mind, from Minor Mage: "The line of paw prints behind the armadillo began to weave back and forth across the road. Oliver reached down and scooped his familiar up in his arms." The armadillo itself isn't staggering, the pawprints are. We're literally following its traces to intuit what has happened. It is getting tired from a long walk. Perhaps this is less a rule than a preference. Then again - aren't most rules just that?

  2. 4 out of 5

    Linda Robinson

    I don't remember what I was looking for on my bookshelves, but I found this. The title made me pick it off the shelf, and made me buy it at whatever Michigan bookstore I found it in. The book is signed by the author, so that means he had a book signing there. I believe he's a Michigan born writer, but his .com won't load. Which is interesting. Like this book. I read it again sitting at my workbench just now, interrupting whatever I was doing. It's short, like most good advice. It has excellent in I don't remember what I was looking for on my bookshelves, but I found this. The title made me pick it off the shelf, and made me buy it at whatever Michigan bookstore I found it in. The book is signed by the author, so that means he had a book signing there. I believe he's a Michigan born writer, but his .com won't load. Which is interesting. Like this book. I read it again sitting at my workbench just now, interrupting whatever I was doing. It's short, like most good advice. It has excellent information - not all of which is because I agree. There is enough agreed that I'm willing to try the rest. Vander-Ark sticks a pin in my writers' block issues. Once upon a time, I wrote about how to not write. I'm grateful for the guide and the brevity. The timing. I can now put off the other 5 to-do things on my pretend goal list. Onward, writers.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Meryl

    A great summary of all the important points. While I didn't agree with everything, this is the perfect book for a beginner, or the writer who wants to level up. A great summary of all the important points. While I didn't agree with everything, this is the perfect book for a beginner, or the writer who wants to level up.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Bill Tillman

    A short book about writing, gem packed with practical tips for writers. This book is a keeper, highlight it, refer to it often. Takes less than an hour to read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tasha Vance

    Arbitrary title. Great resources included. Short, sweet, and straight to the point. Not quite a must read, but a great tool to have.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    A good and fast read This book is quick and has lots of stuff to trigger writing. How to books make me nervous in general because they simplify and generalize generally but this one was both general and specific.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Peter Tremblay

    Great short read. Great advice.. More useful and practical than much longer works I have tried to plod through. Memorable advice succinctly presented. I recommend it.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Simone

    A short compilation of very brief writing advice. Nothing I didn't read before in other books in a lot more detail, but a good reminder of a few things. As with every book on writing, I found some parts useful, others not so much (and the author almost lost me with the statement "Stephen King is genius"). Useful for new writers who are just starting out, anyone who has already read up on the topic will likely not find anything new, but a quick refresher of the main pointers. A short compilation of very brief writing advice. Nothing I didn't read before in other books in a lot more detail, but a good reminder of a few things. As with every book on writing, I found some parts useful, others not so much (and the author almost lost me with the statement "Stephen King is genius"). Useful for new writers who are just starting out, anyone who has already read up on the topic will likely not find anything new, but a quick refresher of the main pointers.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Audra

    This is a very short book that gets straight to the point about writing technique. I read it in one sitting and did find some very valuable advice in here along with some examples of how to implement the advice into my own writing. Short, sweet, and inspirational. The reason for leaving off one star is for some glaring typos I found while reading.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    This book wastes no time and gets straight to the point. There’s no filler and it uses vernacular language that’s easy to understand. Overall, I would recommend it as an introductory book on writing.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Linda Cousine

    Short but sweet. Great practical advice, just wished there was more of it! For anyone who needs the Cliff Notes version on how to tighten your writing, this book will definitely head you in the right direction.

  12. 5 out of 5

    R.N. Simpson

    Unexpected advice that we all need to hear! I am so glad I stumbled on thi. My manuscript was struggling and this book helped me tackle my book with fresh eyes!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy Walker

    This is a great little book filled with good practical advice about writing. Highly recommended.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Daniel O'donovan

    Some very useful points in this little book. Every author is different of course but I think that anyone wishing to be a writer would benefit from giving this a read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Steven Mackey

    Succinct and Essential Like a distillation of some the best how-to books out there. Not a word wasted. Mercifully short and all the better for it.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Great tips Some useful and concise tips on how to improve your story telling. Made me feel more passionate and confident about my writing.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jordyn Snyder

    This book is the holy bible of all "how-to-write" paperbacks. I laughed, I nodded along in agreement, I fist bumped the air, I stared dumbfoundedly at a few pages and felt incredibly stupid for a few chapters... all in a span of about two hours, which is how long it took me to read it. If you are thinking of writing a book, have written a book, or in the middle of writing a book (like me), I RECOMMEND this piece of art 100%!!!!! Do not have enough praise. A serious must-buy. This book is the holy bible of all "how-to-write" paperbacks. I laughed, I nodded along in agreement, I fist bumped the air, I stared dumbfoundedly at a few pages and felt incredibly stupid for a few chapters... all in a span of about two hours, which is how long it took me to read it. If you are thinking of writing a book, have written a book, or in the middle of writing a book (like me), I RECOMMEND this piece of art 100%!!!!! Do not have enough praise. A serious must-buy.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Phyllis Stewart

    Great help for every writer The advice is timely, sound, and pithy as well. This is a book for beginning to advanced professionals. Every novel can be better using Vander Ark's principles. Thoroughly enjoyable. Great help for every writer The advice is timely, sound, and pithy as well. This is a book for beginning to advanced professionals. Every novel can be better using Vander Ark's principles. Thoroughly enjoyable.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jane Night

    This was a good book for beginning writers. It covered the highlights of what is important for storytelling. The authors voice was engaging and the examples given to explain the points made were short and concise. I felt the information was less useful to those who have been writing for a long time. Usually, I find some gem of wisdom I haven't heard before but nothing really stood out to me. If you read a ton of writing books then I don't think this one has much to add. If you are a new writer p This was a good book for beginning writers. It covered the highlights of what is important for storytelling. The authors voice was engaging and the examples given to explain the points made were short and concise. I felt the information was less useful to those who have been writing for a long time. Usually, I find some gem of wisdom I haven't heard before but nothing really stood out to me. If you read a ton of writing books then I don't think this one has much to add. If you are a new writer picking up books on creative writing for the first time then this book is a good choice.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sue Lilley

    Short and sweet but packed full of helpful tips and advice. Easy to read and no superfluous waffle. Not much new but a useful summary.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Britney Peterson

    At approximately 100 pages, this quick little guide to writing is one burgeoning writers would do well to visit. It offers simple suggestions with straightforward explanations and doesn't sugarcoat or shy away from things a lot of writers don't want to hear (e.g. be careful with dialogue tags; if you want to monetize your work, you should basically always be working or researching; dig for the character's truth to unearth the most powerful and universal themes as opposed to stopping at just "He At approximately 100 pages, this quick little guide to writing is one burgeoning writers would do well to visit. It offers simple suggestions with straightforward explanations and doesn't sugarcoat or shy away from things a lot of writers don't want to hear (e.g. be careful with dialogue tags; if you want to monetize your work, you should basically always be working or researching; dig for the character's truth to unearth the most powerful and universal themes as opposed to stopping at just "He was sad" or "She was disappointed"). Though the advice proffered isn't anything most English or writing students won't have already heard, it is worth a study and a few rereads. I know I'll return to it as I polish my own manuscript. I did, however, have a couple of nitpicks that center chiefly around the modern-day media examples Jake Vander Ark uses to illustrate his points. Between pages 48 and 51, I found 3 errors: a missing word, a misplaced word, and the misspelled name of one of the main characters from "Game of Thrones," of which the author seems to be a fan. I only bring it up because, for self-published authors especially, having numerous mistakes in the text makes it look like you didn't have your work professionally edited, which makes you look a little lax, and that intrinsically makes me question how qualified you are to be giving me advice on professionalism. After all, I'm not a GoT fan and even I know it's spelled "Tyrion." Still, it is worth pointing out that the advice itself is valuable enough for one to ignore the errors and get on with the learning... Yet in a similar vein, while I enjoyed -- and agreed with -- many of the media references Vander Ark pulls from, I wish he'd included more female writers and characters as well. It wouldn't hurt to remind writers (and readers) that there are plenty of powerful female voices out there to study and emulate too. (I also wasn't a big fan of the way he wrote the section "Put Story Before Cause." I got what he meant and respect the truth of it, I do, but as a biracial woman, I'm never going to be comfortable reading about a white author actively advising his black readers: "...do not set out to write about the black experience." I'm pretty sure you can still do that and not alienate your white, Latinx, Hispanic, Asian, Native American and Pasifika audiences. Take Jordan Peele's "Get Out," for instance. But I digress.) If you're looking for a succinct and worthwhile refresher on some of the most basic and nuanced rules in writing, "Put the Cat..." is indeed a great place to start. Poor cat.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

    I'll probably read this book at least 3 more times. If there were a print edition, I'd buy it to use as desk reference. It's terrific. Thank you, Jake Vander Ark, for sharing your secrets of success. Maybe this seems like an obvious result of reading a book about writing, but it was useful to me not just as a guide to writing well, but as an explanation for why there are so many books I start reading and think "Ugh, how does this get good reviews?" and then stop reading in search of something be I'll probably read this book at least 3 more times. If there were a print edition, I'd buy it to use as desk reference. It's terrific. Thank you, Jake Vander Ark, for sharing your secrets of success. Maybe this seems like an obvious result of reading a book about writing, but it was useful to me not just as a guide to writing well, but as an explanation for why there are so many books I start reading and think "Ugh, how does this get good reviews?" and then stop reading in search of something better. Sometimes it's obvious why a book either doesn't hold my interest or I think it's just plain poorly written. Much of the time, though, I can't quite put my finger on what separates the books I never finished and either didn't rate at all or only gave 1 or 2 stars from the books I finished and gave 3 or 4 stars. The 5-star books stand apart because they have everything a reader could want, and then some. I think Put the Cat in the Oven is an executive summary of what separates a 2- or 3-star book from a 4- or 5-star one. While I was reading it, examples popped into my mind some of the books on my Goodreads "favorites" shelf and how they're different from all the ones I've started and never finished--or even the ones I read all the way through but forgot about within a few weeks or months. If you are looking to write something 5-star and unforgettable, read this book. It's short, funny, entertaining, and loaded with fantastic advice and tips

  23. 5 out of 5

    Susi Moffat

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. It was the intriguing title that I noticed first about this book, it also kept it in my mind until I finally bought the book and could read more. The book itself is full of useful tips on writing fiction- short, to the point tips, nothing too in-depth. I really enjoyed it, so why the four stars? Well, on page 25 it says to save rhyming words and alliteration for poetry, but then on page 31 we have an extract from the author’s own work (not a piece of poetry) that includes both rhyming words and al It was the intriguing title that I noticed first about this book, it also kept it in my mind until I finally bought the book and could read more. The book itself is full of useful tips on writing fiction- short, to the point tips, nothing too in-depth. I really enjoyed it, so why the four stars? Well, on page 25 it says to save rhyming words and alliteration for poetry, but then on page 31 we have an extract from the author’s own work (not a piece of poetry) that includes both rhyming words and alliteration. Don’t get me wrong, the extract is beautiful, it just threw me since it contradicted earlier advice (which stuck with me because I didn’t agree with it - but then I’m no novelist). Then when the author talks about using the ‘notecard system’ I couldn’t understand what he meant- I needed more information, and I think that’s true of a couple parts of the book. Almost unforgivably, I felt the example about the cat in the oven was weak and didn’t get the author’s point across. Given that it relates to the title, I expected something more. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic book, but I feel because it is so short, these parts stuck out.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    Great book for writers to read This book takes out all the boring, mundane, useless words and gets to the point. The point is how to be a better writer. With simple, but accurate advice on every part of a story, I even pulled up my phone to take a few notes as inspiration hit for the book I'm currently writing. Easy to read with information that will stick with me as I continue to study "the craft." Also, genius on the Author's part to use his other books as examples, it made me look them up and Great book for writers to read This book takes out all the boring, mundane, useless words and gets to the point. The point is how to be a better writer. With simple, but accurate advice on every part of a story, I even pulled up my phone to take a few notes as inspiration hit for the book I'm currently writing. Easy to read with information that will stick with me as I continue to study "the craft." Also, genius on the Author's part to use his other books as examples, it made me look them up and add them to my read list. I recommend this book to all writers, glad I came upon it.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Beatrice Morgan

    Quick, simple, and important advice all writers and wannabe writers should know; I found this short book informative, and although it doesn't say anything new about writing, it presents well-known advice in a quirky and easy to understand way. The title doesn't lie - it's concise and free of the "fluffy" stuff that packs those lengthy writing books, like "write your dreams" advice that doesn't mean anything. Quick, simple, and important advice all writers and wannabe writers should know; I found this short book informative, and although it doesn't say anything new about writing, it presents well-known advice in a quirky and easy to understand way. The title doesn't lie - it's concise and free of the "fluffy" stuff that packs those lengthy writing books, like "write your dreams" advice that doesn't mean anything.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Charles Ray

    'Put the Cat in the Oven Before You Describe the Kitchen' by Jake Vander Ark is a fairly good book on writing, with some effective no-nonsense tips on how you can make your writing better. The author has an easy-to-read style, but didn't really offer all that much that was new in my opinion. Still, it's not a bad reference book to have on your shelf. 'Put the Cat in the Oven Before You Describe the Kitchen' by Jake Vander Ark is a fairly good book on writing, with some effective no-nonsense tips on how you can make your writing better. The author has an easy-to-read style, but didn't really offer all that much that was new in my opinion. Still, it's not a bad reference book to have on your shelf.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Pamela Canepa

    There is so much useful information here for a writer, whether a novelist or a student in a Creative Writing college course. It was very engaging and went by quickly. To be honest, it was over too soon, but this just means it was very enjoyable and applicable to my situation as a self-published author. It was certainly worth my time, and I recommend it!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Amber Montgomery

    Concise Honest and funny. I know I will refer back to this book often. Thank you for the advice as I was struggling with whether or not I was overriding adjectives. Now how about my run on on sentences?

  29. 4 out of 5

    Valerie

    Great title For just a dollar what's not to like? Readable style, sound advice, not too long. Don't look for depth or elegant prose. This is writing 101, quick and basic. Great title For just a dollar what's not to like? Readable style, sound advice, not too long. Don't look for depth or elegant prose. This is writing 101, quick and basic.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Pat Stanford

    A list, not a book This is basically a checklist of things most writers know about already. Still, can be handy for your writer's toolbox. A list, not a book This is basically a checklist of things most writers know about already. Still, can be handy for your writer's toolbox.

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