Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday: “The Fire In Fiction” by Donald Maas

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In case you didn’t already know, Donald Maass is a legend of 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.

Key Takeaways

  • There is a big difference between storytellers–people who hone their craft relentlessly–and status seekers, who publish for money and recognition. Be the former, and avoid the latter trap.
  • Great novels happen because the author is committed to making every scene, every line, not just technically good, but infused with the author’s own passion.
  • Protagonists shouldn’t be just Jane and John Does. They should be people we admire and want to spend time with, like the few friends we have that we would cancel plans and drop everything for. 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–even the minor ones. Make no one flat.
  • 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. In each, something or several somethings should change. A story is always in motion. Remember: change.
  • Your book should include the “tornado effect.” This is the big event in the book that affects all of the characters. Show how it affects them, too; don’t just assume the reader gets it. Make it clear how the tornado changed everything.
  • Good description attaches emotions to detail. Both are found together. Don’t have flat detail; have evocative detail.
  • Characters should have opinions. This makes us want to get to know them. Don’t worry about being too controversial; remember, they’re just characters, not you.
  • “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 three hundred pages. Knowing who will win this little battle of minds in this scene keeps us there for that scene.

About the Author

Donald Maass is an American literary agent, author, and teacher known for his expertise in the field of writing and storytelling. He is also the founder and president of the Donald Maass Literary Agency, which represents a wide range of fiction and non-fiction authors. He has worked in the publishing industry for over forty years, helping authors navigate the publishing world and negotiate book deals.

In addition to his work as a literary agent, Maass is also a prolific author. He has written several books on writing and craft, including Writing the Breakout Novel, The Fire in Fiction, and The Emotional Craft of Fiction. These books offer insights, techniques, and exercises to help writers create compelling and emotionally resonant stories.

Maass is known for his deep understanding of storytelling and his ability to identify what makes a book stand out and connect with readers. He encourages authors to dig deeper, take risks, and infuse their writing with emotional depth and resonance.


Can’t quite get to all the nonfiction and self-help books that interest you? Read Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday here.


Babies come. But babies don't go. Get Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Story on Amazon now.