This week, I’ve been reading Donald Maass’ book Writing the Breakout Novel. I just finished skimming through the last few chapters, which provide a sort of overview about some specific plot styles, theme, and a bit about publishing. Since I’m getting ready to dig into plotting a first draft of my WIP, I was more interested in the material about crafting and writing that draft.
And I got plenty of that in the last few days. True confession time: I tried to read Maass’ book a couple of years ago, and it just didn’t get me. I was actually annoyed by what I thought he was saying, and frustrated with his perspective that his was the absolutely right way to do things.
When I picked up the book last week, to try again, I felt like someone had substitutedcompletely new, different pages. This time around, I was slapping myself on the forehead, shouting “Duh!” and agreeing with everything Maass says.
I’m pretty sure that, last time, it was me, not the book–where I was with my writing and the project I was working on.
This next book that I’m starting has the potential for all the things Maasstalks about: plausibility, inherent conflict, originality, and gut emotional appeal. It’s the potential part, though, that I’m welcoming Maass’ help with. Because, in the book, he talks not only about how important all these element are, but HOW you can get them into your story. He hands out questions to ask about our books, what to do when we don’t find the answers we want (or any answers at all!), and techniques for basically deepening every piece of your story.
Maass talks about characters and tension and subplots–all the things that, when done well enough, give your story the layers it needs to catch the reader and keep them hooked–to the very end. He shows you why NOT pushing yourself doesn’t work, not for this particular story or for your writing skills.
When I first dipped into this book, I thought Maass’ angle was all on the selling success of the book. Again–what was I reading? He emphasizes over and over again how his advice and information are about the craft, and he’s right. Yes, he thinks following this advice will give a writer more chance of “breaking out,” whether that means selling more copies of a book than ever before, hitting the NY Times bestseller list, or simply succeeding in making an agent love your project. He doesn’t make any guarantees, though, and he wants us to try his techniques because we love writing and because we want to be better at it.
He’s got me pegged.
How about you? I haven’t run a contest yet at this blog, and today seems the place to start. It’s Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday, a time for giving and support. And tomorrow the whole country starts off in a new direction, on a strong, hopeful path. I want to celebrate.
So…leave me a comment about this post, between now and end-of-day Monday, January 26th. I’ll draw a name on Tuesday, and the winner will get their choice–a copy of Writing the Breakout Novel OR Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, also by Maass. I’ll be buying my own copy this week! 🙂