SparkNotes as a Writer’s Tool

Writing Resources2-BlogI just discovered as a tool for learning about the craft of storytelling. I always thought of SparkNotes—and CliffNotes—as simply being something you turned to in high school if you hadn’t read the assigned book and there was an upcoming test. SparkNotes would give you enough of a summarized story overview to, hopefully, help you pass.

But guess what! SparkNotes delivers much more than just a book summary.

I popped in to see what they had on Victor Hugo’s book, Les Misérables, a t.v. series recently presented by PBS. The plot of the story captivated me; the character arcs and character development were observable.

I wanted to unravel the story; break it down; see if I could learn some writing structure and character development from it. I knew I wouldn’t read the whole book. But jotting down notes from having watched the series felt do-able.

I went to SparkNotes thinking a big-picture summary of the book might help me identify fundamental story concepts: the hero, an inciting incident, in pursuit of something, meeting conflicts that get increasingly complex, conquering them until the hero overcomes all and reaches a final resolution. And in the process, the hero’s character changes; you see their character arc.

When I pulled up the SparkNotes web site for Les Misérables, I felt as if I’d landed on a story structure training page. It’s a way of getting a taste of key aspects of a book. It provided:


  • Summary
    • A summary of the book’s overall plot
    • Chapter summaries and analysis
  • Characters: A list of characters, with background summaries about relevant characters, plus more in-depth analysis of major ones
  • Main Ideas: themes, motifs, symbols and key facts
  • Quotes: Important quotations with brief analysis regarding their meaning
  • Further study: author background, quizzes, study suggestions and suggested reading
  • Writing Help: Tools to help students write essays on the book

Here are the topics addressed in the Main Ideas section for Harper Lee’s, To Kill a Mockingbird:

SparkNotes: To Kill a Mockingbird Main Ideas web pageCliffNotes is worth checking out as well; the sites are similar but with differences that make them both working looking at. My first leaning was toward SparkNotes, but each has value, and it likely comes down to personal preference.

This is a totally current discovery, but I’m excited about the possibilities, and stoked to share it. Let me know what you think!


Photo source: Walk the Goats



On-Line Character Naming Tool

Writing Resources2-Blog

Baby Names from the Social Security Administration

While you might not think of the Social Security Administration (SSA) as a writing resource, think different. If your story is grounded in the U.S. or U.S. territories, it’s a great site to help find baby names.  Which means it can help you choose names for characters. Or help you find out if a name you’ve already chosen was popular or not during the era in which your story takes place.

Curious what the top names in the U.S. were in 1880?   Continue reading “On-Line Character Naming Tool”

Fun Q&A Grammar Blog

Writing Resources2-BlogI love finding writing and publishing resources that are new to me. Rather than just bookmark them, I decided to add them to my blog. It’ll help me and, just maybe, prove useful to others.

I plan to do individual posts on stuff as I find it.  If, over time, I end up with a bunch of great resources, I’ll consolidate them into a single page or post. If you have any “go to” resources you want to share, feel free to note them in the Comments. I know there’s a lot of great stuff out there to discover. So any signposts others can show me are welcome. Continue reading “Fun Q&A Grammar Blog”