Monday, June 19, 2006

Borging Maass


Definitely a lot to assimilate.
Lots of premises to de-construct, translate, chew-over and digest.
One reads insider advice like Writing the Breakout Novel with both trepidation and exhilaration.
One looks both for reinforcement of personal writing techniques ( "ah, YES!...I did that...he says that's GOOD!") and for life-line help ( "opps... so that's why that felt off...I forgot/didn't know/didn't think of, etc.").
Beyond the reinforcement of the good stuff and the stripped clear outline of what is bad, weak or missing, there's the third benefit: the getting-off-of personal-rocks effect.
Nothing is so satisfying to a writer than to find an expert nail and hammer a technique, a characteristic, a quirk that has privately burned one's ass.

In his section, Tension on Every Page, Maass notes:
Certain types of scenes are so reliably low tension that when reading a manuscript, I count them in my notes with hatch marks. They include: mulling things while driving from one place to another, relaxing in a shower, fixing a cut of tea or coffee...When they [Category romance writers] complain to me at conferences they cannot seem to break "out of category," it is a pretty good bet that their heroines are tea addicts.

Thank you, Mr. Maass.
We have our petty side.

21 comments:

kmfrontain said...

Mulling things over, in any setting, can be a tension killer. I have seen pages of text devoted to mulling things over, and even on a pirate ship, or on a trek up a killer mountain, mull-things-over text kills the read. I try to keep reflection to a few paras, not pages, and if it can be shown instead of told, I do it. And if not, better to let the character say it in a conversation, if at all possible.

Sela Carsen said...

I had my hero take a shower in NQD. But it's ok. He really, really needed one and, according to my cp's, the mental image of water "sluicing" over his body makes up for the mulling. ;)

I was dared to use the word "sluicing," too.

Bernita said...

Think that's the key, KM, keeping it to a paragraph or two.
Or adding a thought as a reaction to another's comment or action, working in the "mulling" that way.

"Sluicing" seems a good word, Sela.

Since Maass speaks in another place about the value of a bit of internal exposition, I don't think it's the shower per se that turns his crank, it's the number of pages devoted to it!
I know pace in my WIP improved dramatically when I cut out pages of it.

It may help sustain tension if the internal dialogue is of the argumentative sort, rather than the simple repetition of events we've already seen.

jason evans said...

Yes, yes! There are many of these kinds of duds to weed out. For me, it was waking up. In my first novel I had my character waking up so many times and getting out of bed, I wanted to crawl INTO bed from boredom and dread. I needed more material. Every scene should be strong.

Bernita said...

Hee, Jason!
For me it was putting them in bed.
Not the best way to end a chapter, even if you've driven their sorry asses into exhaustion with events that, logically and realistically, they need it.

Flood said...

It seems to me that the romance genre always has a conflict in that something is going to keep the couple apart, right? So tension can start right away. (The only romance I've read were old 70s Harlequins btw, so I could be wrong)

Outside of romance, suspense and horror, etc, how can tension always remain high? Is it the introduction of the conflict immediately and working from there?

Bernita said...

Maass goes into that in some detail, Flood - the ways the tension/conflict/stakes can be enhanced, even in those novels where a basic conflict comes with the territory.

One of the methods is to raise the risk to the protag. Undermine his faith in a dear belief, kill off the person he most depends on, think of the worst thing that can happen and introduce it...things like that.

Dennie McDonald said...

I hate absolutes - "never have them in a car" or "never over drinks" it's all in the exicution - no matter what you genre and/or subject - I am not going to argue w/ Maas, but it has been done - all it of - some well and some not so much...

Bernita said...

I don't much care for absolutes either, Dennie.
But I have to remind myself - that while there are always, always exceptions - I'm not like the one.
And, in fact, by their rarity, the exceptions do tend to prove the rule.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Hello evil twin...*insert maniacal laughter here*

You really hit a cord in me with this. As you can see I'm going to post a short synopsis of each of Maass' workbook sessions.

I love both the book and workbook. This is a good way for me to read it again for the seventh time!

'Cause truthfully I relearn something I forgot each time! I'm actually working on the 'tension' in every scene thing right now!

Bernita said...

Bonnie, angel...
Now that is a wonderful and helpful idea.
That's one thing that struck me out his advice - one can read it again and again and still gain something more.
I will Make Note tomorrow.

S. W. Vaughn said...

Oh hooray! You've read Maass' book! I've recommended the hell out of it to everyone, but for some reason neglected to mention it on blogs...

A few years back I attended a workshop with Maass (yep, I met the man hisself and learned right from his lips). It was immensely helpful. I learned a LOT about writing fiction. One of the things he told us to do, and I don't remember now if he mentions it in his book or workbook, is this:

-Print out your manuscript
-Break it up into chunks of 20 or so pages
-Toss them up in the air and let them flutter about the room (start gasping now)
-Pick them up in random order
-Go through the whole thing one random page at a time and look for tension on every page. Fix pages without tension.

And yet, my characters do occasionally drink COFFEE (never tea) and take showers. But it's always IMPORTANT coffee, and IMPORTANT showers, of course. :-)

Bonnie Calhoun said...

S.W...that's a great idea...I know I've heard it before...as I go through the workbook I'll let you know if I rediscover it...Yanno, since your a fan of his too, your comments would be totally welcome...and yours too, Bernita...as i go through this series.

Three heads is always better than one....I did not say that, did I? It makes me think of Cerberus...or something!

S. W. Vaughn said...

Bonnie, I think the hardest bit is figuring out what defines "tension" since it can be either overt or understated, but still must be present. I'd be happy to offer any insights, because I think Maass is on to something (and we could all use a breakout novel -- having the first one break through would ROCK!).

I'm going to run through my (very well thumbed and scribbled upon) workbook again to refresh my memory. :-)

Bernita said...

I suppose the 52 pick-up method is to break the writer of the self-mesmerization that can occur when reading straight through, SW?

That makes me think of Fluffy a la Harry Potter, Bonnie.
You're Fluffy One...

Robyn said...

Showers never bother me, but what does bug the ever loving crap out of me is tea drinkers. Not that they use that time to ruminate, but that they apparently get their water to boil in 30 seconds. I'm so stopped by that I don't even care what they're thinking. Another sad display of my anal need for realistic details, I guess.

And KM, I've read the introspective-during-the-mission pirate/cop/Navy SEAL so often that my eyes are still rolling. Reminds me of that commercial with the Olympic hurdler; she lamented that people asked her what she thought of during a race. She said, "12345678910KICK! What do you think I'm thinking? I'm working here!"

Gabriele C. said...

You can submit 500 words of meddlesome middle musings to the Crabby Cows this week and look if they're going to stop midway.

I seldom use more than a single sentence or at best a short paragraph for musings, and promptly had people complain they couldn't 'get into the heads of my characters'. Lazy buggers, they're supposed to use their own heads and imagine what a character would think - I give enough hints. As a reader, I hate it when I get told for two pages what I already had figured out the moment the character let the room and slammed the door. Her soon to be ex is a bastard.

Bernita said...

That particularly bugs me, Robyn.It's the job, the mission, the gear, the timing, not the argument with the heroine 3 months ago.

Exactly, Gabriele.
I believe Maass calls such re-hashings as "outdated."

Shesawriter said...

It's called scene and sequel, Donald! Grrrr. LOL!

Well, I don't write category, but I do write romance. I don't think I have any tea scenes, but if I do have characters mulling stuff over, there is ALWAYS something else going on to move the plot forward.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Shesawriter...scenes and sequels...I learned that from Randy Ingermanson and his Snowflake method of plotting!

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