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Monday, June 15, 2009

Fire In Fiction (or not)


Super agent Donald Maass has published another writing book --Fire In Fiction. It is about putting the passion into your fiction writing. However, because of the scope and the scale of the book, it ends up retreading much of his earlier work and indeed some of the exercises are the same as Writing the Break Out Novel Workbook. I think the wholesale repeating of the exercises was the most disappointing part. There again the skills of writing a best seller do not really change. Much of the theory was articulated brilliant in Swain's book -- Techniques of the Selling Writer. It is how a writer applies these techniques that matters.

It is quite possible my expectations were far too high after all I had several epiphanies when I first read the Writing the Break Out Novel duo. I still use my Workbook and certain exercises every time I write a manuscript. My copy is now dogeared. None of the new exercises grabbed me but it could be the stage of my writing and the way I work. And maybe that is an epiphany in itself.

Maass' The Career Novelist which is available as a free download gave me a lot of useful info about how publishing works and why it is important to do the local PR work. And despite being dated, I do recommend it.

Somehow Maass's words seemed flat and he did not appear to have as much raw passion about this book as he did with the others. With The Career Novelist there was a sort of raw excitement as there was with Breakout Novel.

I suspect that the subject is very difficult to explain as because the passion and drive must come from within. It is not something that can be taught. It is part of the raw storytelling talent. And sometimes, the teaching of various parts falls into the mantra -- keep your eye on the doughnut and not the hole. Too often, Maass seems to have his eye on various potential holes, rather than on looking at the story as a whole.

I do agree with Maass that writing is a career for the long term and the most important part of writing is making sure that the book goes up to the next level. Because the concept of storytelling is so huge, you can never fully grasp it and there are always parts which one can polish.

I will go back over the book and see if there is anything more I can glean (the bit about turning points looks interesting). Sometimes, gems can be hidden and missed on the first read.

Will I buy his next book? The jury remains out. It depends on the subject matter.

Should aspiring writers buy this one? It depends. I prefer Writing the Breakout Novel duo but that is me. The one advantage this book has over Writing the Break out Novel is that the exercises are contained within the book. But umltimately is all about applying techniques so that you can achieve a page turning read.

The fire in your fiction has to come from you as the novelist. The way you temper and shape that fire that is where craft comes into. But ultimately you have to have that drive to succeed and to craft your stories. Some authors are able to simply write and never worry about the construction of their rainbows. Other writers worry too much about the construction and do not pay attention to the reason why people gasp. I like to think I do both. But I am at the latter stages of the early part of my career and therefore am starting to grasp what works for me.
The last page of your book sells the first page of your next book.

Ultimately the only thing I can control is my writing and the knowledge of craft can help. It is the application of that knowledge that makes for a page turning read. And an author should never be satisfied. It is always all about how to make the current story absolutely sing. If readers get an emotionally satisfying read, then they will be back for more or at least it is what I keep telling myself.

6 comments:

Janet said...

For me, the chapter on tension made the book worth buying. I don't remember his other 2 books going into tension in quite so much detail

Michelle Styles said...

Oh he did. It was the trouble with tea chapter and there are three excellent exercises plus accompanying notes. But it is what speaks to you and I still do not think he quite understands the tensions that are needed in a love scene. In a romance they are absolutely poivotal. And so many things have to come together. Otherwise it is simply tab A into slot B which is all very well and good except not really what is required.

Janet said...

"I still do not think he quite understands the tensions that are needed in a love scene. In a romance they are absolutely poivotal."

Yes, you're right. Also, I'm not sure his advice about avoiding sequels following scenes (aftermath) applies to romance. He concedes that they can work when inner conflict rather than contemplation is the focus, but generally, he seems to advise against including them.
What do you think, Michelle? In romance novels are they essential or unnecessary?

liz fenwick said...

Excellant post and comments! I think I will stick to the duo :-)
lx

ninaharrington said...

Very interesting post Michelle - thanks for that.
I confess that I tend to use another craft book during the actual writing now rather than the Donald Maass.
'Emotional Structure - a Guide for Screenwriters' is terrific on the emotional journey the characters travel at key turning points etc.

Saying that, I do read the 'Breakout Novel' for general craft and ALWAYS find something which triggers lateral thinking.
All food for the girls in the basement LOL

Kaye Manro said...

Good post Michelle. I especially like your last two paragraphs.

Fire In Fiction is a good title, but I tend to agree with you.