Sunday, June 18, 2006

Writing the Breakout Novel

About the only bright thing during Days Lost in the Black Screen was the arrival, by post, of Donald Maass' book Writing the Breakout Novel.

In a random act of kindness, another writer sent me her copy.
A gift of thought as well as deed.
Deeply appreciated.
I'm on my second pass through it.
An excellent book, fit to sit beside King's On Writing.

Two points strike me as imperative:
(1) His advice and examples apply to all styles, irrespective of genre. No implied snootery regarding romance or westerns or fantasy.
(2) "Breakout" is defined as a sharp improvement in market position - not instant elevation to the NYTimes best-seller list. In other words, any writer at almost any stage can benefit from it.

Best utilized, I think, if one is - to use that ugly word - a panster, after the book is drafted. When one has a manuscript in one hand and cold, hard reason in the other.
Am glad that I finished Trio of Dragons ( The Conyers Falchion, that was) before this advice fell into my lap.
Because I can look at the completed work and ask myself the questions upon revision: Did I do this and that? Did I do this and that sufficiently, strongly, vividly?
I'm one of those who need a thing concrete to compare and question.

Nevertheless, the general principles have value for the beginner, and definitely for the detailed plotter.
Like good sex, both a before and after book.


Erik Ivan James said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I've read King's On Writing twice, and will look forward to the same with Maass'. It's now time for a drive to the B&N anyway.

Bernita said...

It's a good book, Erik.
One to be re-read again and again.

EA Monroe said...

Hi Bernita. I noticed on PBW's blog when she was granting Wishes, that you also listed "Writing the Breakout Novel" for your wish. I ordered a copy, too, and I'm waiting for it to arrive. I've also worn out Sol Stein's book, "Stein on Writing," and a book by Brenda Ueland, "If You Want To Write," that's been great for words of encouragement and spirit.

Bernita said...

Hi, EA.
Very nice of you to drop by!
You will not be disappointed in Maass' book.
I was put off by the title at first, because I don't expect the NYTimes, but the book isn't truly directed towards the absolute top.

Carla said...

You say it would suit the detailed plotter - is it primarily about plot development?

And welcome back from the Black Screen, by the way.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Carla. I was unclear,I'm afraid.
I think his advice would work best for the organic writer upon revision - as a check point, a touchstone - but the detailed outliner would find the material advantageous in the planning stages.
However, that is simply an opinion.

You might say that he does, though he points out that all elements of a novel are interrelated.

Containes chapters about time and place (includes working with historical forces and social trends), stakes (conflicts), characters, themes, premises, multiple viewpoints, subplots, pace, voice and endings.
As well as plots and plot techniques.

Carla said...

Just about everything, in other words. Sounds like an amazing book.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Donald Maass definitely knows what he is talking about. He is also the president of the Donald Maass Literary Agency on New York. He sells more than a hundred novels a year to publishers!

I have both the book and the workbook. The workbook is divided into three parts: Character development, Plot development and General story techniques...

I would say, you can't read it enough times...I've probably been through the workbook a half dozen times. I write the exercises on paper instead of the pages and I keep them.

LOL...I have improved since the first time through!

PS, my friend Debbie was a little over the top in her assessment of the situation in her post yesterday...breathing was just fine..LOL...although it bordered on hyperventilation...LOL!

Jaye Wells said...

I have the workbook for Breakout. Once I finish my current ms, the plan is to sit down and reread Breakout and analyse the book (after a brief break). I think it's a good way to get a plan in place before you immerse yourself in the quagmire that is the first draft. I'm nto a pantster, but I think even us plotter types need to reassess once the draft is done.

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