In case you didn’t already know, Donald Maass is practically a legend in the book publishing world. In his mature, wise, yet conversational way, he’s written a slew of books on writing and publishing, including How To Be Your Own Literary Agent. I love the emphasis in The Fire In Fiction: Passion, Purpose, and Technique To Make Your Novel Great on making your fiction (and nonfiction) snap, crackle and pop. This is one of the most practical and specific books on writing I’ve ever read.
A Brief Outline:
- There is a big difference between storytellers–people who hone their craft relentlessly–and status seekers, who publish for money and recognition.
- Great novels happen because the author is committed to making every scene, every line, not just technically good, but one that’s infused with the author’s own passion.
- Protagonists shouldn’t be just Jane and John Does. They should be people we admire, want to spend time with, like the few friends we have that we would cancel plans to spend time with. Even antiheroes should be admirable in some way.
- Similarly, every hero or protagonist needs flaws. Balance the bad and good in every character in the book.
- Secondary characters are often one-dimensional, cliché. This is a major missed opportunity. Each should be 3D and memorable!
- When editing scenes, look for their turning points and focus the whole scene around them. This will clarify the purpose of each scene. Something or several somethings should change.
- The Tornado Effect: This is the big event in the book that affects all of the characters. Have one. Show how it affects them, too; don’t just assume the reader gets it.
- Good description attaches emotions to detail. Both are found together.
- Characters should have opinions. This makes us want to get to know them.
- “The world of story is hyperreality. In a passionately told tale, characters are larger than life, what’s happening matters profoundly . . . and even the words on the page have a Day Go fluorescence.”
- “Great books are fast reads because there is tension in every line. Characters are always at odds, even if just mildly, as with conflict between friends. This is the secret to page-turning fiction.”
- “Micro-tension is the moment-by-moment tension that keeps the reader in a constant state of suspense over what will happen, not in the story but in the next few seconds.” Knowing whether or not guy gets girls doesn’t us for 300 pages. Knowing who will win this little battle of minds in this scene keeps us there for that scene.
Get the entire recommended reading list at Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday.