Sunday, November 13, 2011

"Writing the Breakout Novel" – Five Things I’ve Learned From Donald Maass’s book.

Recently, I’ve been going through Donald Maass’s excellent book and workbook, “Writing the Breakout Novel.” If you don’t own this set, I highly recommend it. To whet your appetite, I’m going to share five things that I’ve learned from “Writing the Breakout Novel.”
1)  Give Your Characters Extra Dimension – Maass claims the most interesting protagonists are those who keep us guessing what they are going to do, say, or think, next. He also says the reader will be more likely to identify with the character because there is more of the character to identify with. He tells novelists to think of their protagonists defining quality, think of the opposite of that, and then try to have the protagonist demonstrate that, at least once in their novel. I have utilized this technique and it really helps to make characters multi-dimensional.
2)  Combining Roles of Secondary Characters – Plot layering helps make your novel truly breakout. One of the ways to do this is by combining the roles of secondary characters. Rather than adding characters, delete them. Yes, actually delete some secondary characters. Maass tells novelists to write down the names of all characters, whether major or minor. If you end up with more than ten, delete one. If you have more than twelve, delete two. Now think of ways to give the roles you deleted to an existing character. Giving a secondary character an extra dimension makes for a more interesting well rounded character, thus bringing that character alive in reader’s minds. I loved this exercise and although I was not able to delete two characters, I did delete one, and was very happy with the results. Try it!
3) Defining Personal Stakes – Personal stakes are more than what motivates the hero, they are why the hero does what he does. Why the hero/heroine does things, must matter, both to the hero, and to the reader. Maass tells authors to write down the hero’s main problem, goal, or desire, and then find ways to make the problem matter more…and more…and more. He says that while this adds a lot of extra plot complications, it also makes the character much more interesting. After all, a hero who has only one reason to solve a problem can become a little boring. Don’t you think?
4) Tension On Every PageMaass reports that the reason most manuscripts are rejected is because they lack tension. They have too many scenes showing characters just passing the time of day and saying meaningless things, while the story stagnates. He encourages writers to randomly flip or scroll with their computer mouse to a page on their manuscript, then add tension to that page. It can be anything from having the antagonist point a gun at the hero, to the mere anticipation of something ominous to come. He advises novelists to do this on EVERY page. Although I have not done this exercise, I plan on doing so as soon as I finish my novel. Plus, as I write, I now try to avoid stagnant passages. They’re boring to read and even more boring to write.
5) SymbolismLastly, Maass encourages authors to add symbolism. For example, a thunderstorm, a particular tree, a sunset, etc. While every scene cannot have symbolism, what about the first and last scene? Or a few choice scenes throughout the novel? Symbols can become cliché, yet if they are chosen well, they can also become another facet of your breakout novel. Maass instructs novelists to find an object that can present at the novel’s end and also three other places within the novel. This concept provides association within the novel.

These are only a few of the many great exercise and ideas contained in the book and workbook “Writing the Breakout Novel.” I’ve found this tool has greatly enriched my novel, thus hopefully, adding to its breakout qualities. I hope you will too!

Happy Writing- Amanda

Your Turn - Have you read “Writing the Breakout Novel”? Did you find any of the exercises and ideas particularly helpful?

In celebration of Love to Write day - November 15th, we are giving away TWO copies of Tracie Peterson’s newest book, “House of Secrets”. This book was just released in October and is receiving great reviews on Amazon. It would make a great gift for Christmas, or for yourself. Along with this book we are including a notebook/journal for all you writers!  Leave your comment and email so we can enter you to win this book/journal combo. We will pick two winners Friday!
Congratulations to Karen who won “A Sound Among the Trees” by Susan Meissner last week.
Stay tuned for more great giveaways next week as we, Countdown To Christmas!


Susan said...

Hi, I would love to win the book and journal - also, I really liked your summary of the writing the breakout novel book! Your capsule of the 5 ideas was good.

Anonymous said...

I would love to win this novel. I have not read any of her books and I am excited to see her writing style. Thank you for this chance to enter.

Esther Byler

Anonymous said...

I just realized that the novel is written by a man. This is exciting as most of the writerd I read are from women. I love this. I'm excited to read it.

Esther Byler

Charity Lane said...

I'd love to read House of Secrets and review it on my blog,
cllane2 [at] liberty [dot] edu

Amanda said...

Thank you so much for commenting Susan!!! I’m so glad you liked my summary. I could have went on and on a lot longer though, because Writing the Breakout Novel is sooo good.

Esther, thank you so much for stopping by. I’d love to enter you in the drawing but if you win I have no way to contact you without you leaving your email. Could you please leave your email? Also, from what I can tell “House of Secrets” is written by a woman, Tracie Peterson.

Charity, I’ll be sure to enter you in the drawing as well. And that’s so kind to say you’ll review the book on your blog!!

Thanks to all!

Anonymous said...

I've only read one of Tracie Peterson's books and it was so good! Thanks for providing the opportunity to win this book! :)

Charity Lane said...

Who won?