Writing the Breakout Novel

by Donald Maass

Paper Book, 2001

Status

Available

Publication

Cincinnati, Ohio : Writer's Digest Books, c2001.

Description

Take your fiction to the next level! Maybe you're a first-time novelist looking for practical guidance. Maybe you've already been published, but your latest effort is stuck in mid-list limbo. Whatever the case may be, author and literary agent Donald Maass can show you how to take your prose to the next level and write a breakout novel - one that rises out of obscurity and hits the best-seller lists. Maass details the elements that all breakout novels share - regardless of genre - then shows you writing techniques that can make your own books stand out and succeed in a crowded marketplace. You'll learn to: establish a powerful and sweeping sense of time and place weave subplots into the main action for a complex, engrossing story create larger-than-life characters that step right off the page explore universal themes that will interest a broad audience of readers sustain a high degree of narrative tension from start to finish develop an inspired premise that sets your novel apart from the competition Then, using examples from the recent works of several best-selling authors - including novelist Anne Perry - Maass illustrates methods for upping the ante in every aspect of your novel writing. You'll capture the eye of an agent, generate publisher interest and lay the foundation for a promising career.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member kikilon
The only non-fiction book this month worth mentioning. The Don, as conferencees have taken to calling him, is an eye-opener. not only is he charismatic and funny (I think I made people sick with quoting him for weeks after the conference), he also knows his stuff. He's an interesting orator, and the things he had to say were relevant. I had started reading his book in preparation for the workshop, but only afterwards did it really make sense. I need to reread this again now, with different notes. To date, this is the best and most useful book on writing fiction I've read. It's not comfortable, and that's why it's brilliant. I don't need a book to tell me I'm already doing alright.… (more)
LibraryThing member ChuckB
Donald Maass is a star agent that all writers are clamoring to work with. He represents over 100 writers, who together sell more than 100 books per year. I've seen presentations by him on writing effective query letters and on editing your manuscript, and he is first class all the way. A gifted speaker, presenter and agent. Buy this book, and the workbook that goes with it!… (more)
LibraryThing member McGrewc
Probably THE book to have if you can only afford one for your writing library. Donald succeeds in demonstrating pretty exactly what makes a breakout novel different from any other novel and what you must do to attain that goal.
LibraryThing member brianclegg
The best book I've read on writing fiction. There are no magic bullets here, but Maas gives sound advice and avoids the dull uber-wisdom of some of the classics like Story and The Writer's Journey
LibraryThing member PennyAnn
Highly recommended for anyone who has completed a manuscript. Maass' exercises are sure to make your writing stronger and more saleable. One of the top five writing books I've read.
LibraryThing member Ashliecaster
this book goes over writing a book novel. I liked the authors humor. Great for people who want to know more about how to become a writer and tips for a good novel.
LibraryThing member kikianika
The only non-fiction book this month worth mentioning. The Don, as conferencees have taken to calling him, is an eye-opener. not only is he charismatic and funny (I think I made people sick with quoting him for weeks after the conference), he also knows his stuff. He's an interesting orator, and the things he had to say were relevant. I had started reading his book in preparation for the workshop, but only afterwards did it really make sense. I need to reread this again now, with different notes. To date, this is the best and most useful book on writing fiction I've read. It's not comfortable, and that's why it's brilliant. I don't need a book to tell me I'm already doing alright.… (more)
LibraryThing member inkcharmed
Probably in my top 3 writing books.
LibraryThing member TalmaStormPhoenix
Amazing book that really gets the brain cooking with some fantastic ideas. He doesn't tell you *what* to think but he does give you the push you need to make the leap. You'll want to read it again each time you start a new story!
LibraryThing member ladycato
I approached this book as someone who has written several novels and has an agent. As I prepare to work on more novels, I wanted more insight into the process so I can do a better, more efficient job. I am familiar with Donald Maass and the fame of his agency, and I had this book recommended to me by other writers I respect.

Did I get what I wanted out of this book? Yes, I think so.

Many writing books out there are for beginners--something I know well, as I bought many of them as I started out! This book's strongest point is that it's approachable by writers at various stages; it can be used by someone who is committing to write their first novel, or someone with an established midlist career who wants to "breakout" in the way the title implies. I'm at a weird point somewhere between those extremes. Selling a book is a good goal--selling an excellent book that will continue to sell for years to come? Even better.

Maass uses many examples from bestsellers and his own clients to illustrate this "breakout" phenomenon; it should be noted that these references are dated since the book came out in 2001, but the majority of the titles are still quite recognizable, which says a lot about how breakout books linger. He shows how to dig deeper and complicate plots and characters, and each chapter ends with a checklist. I can see why Writer's Digest Books has created a workbook to go along with the volume, as there were many points where I stopped reading to ponder how Maass's observations applied to my own writing.

In all, a very thought-provoking book, and one with staying power for my reference shelf.
… (more)
LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
I read the blog of an editor who once offered this rule of thumb: Pay attention to who is offering advice on writing. They should either be an author you admire or someone who has gained best-selling status or someone who is or has been a gatekeeper--an acquiring editor or agent. In that regard, he particularly cited this book by Donald Mass, a literary agent for such best-selling clients as Anne Perry, who wrote the introduction.

I think a lot of these strategies aren't just geared towards selling well, but just plain writing well--how to take your skills to the next level. He deals with every facet of technique: stakes, setting, characters, plots, subplots, theme, etc. I particularly liked that he grounded his precepts with a wealth of examples from bestselling novels. And the checklists at the end of each chapter help a lot in absorbing the lessons and in review. I'd say this is one of those basics that should be on any aspiring writer's bookshelf.
… (more)
LibraryThing member JLDobias
Writing the Breakout Novel is clearly a book that every aspiring writer should consider reading.

As far as to say that Donald Maass is a definitive source or this is a definitive work would be presumptuous.

There are quite a few definitive ideas in here that I believe every writer should know. And I believe it is presented with an entertaining and authoritative air.

I must admit that I made the mistake of reading The Fire in Fiction first and I don't believe that it is quite as informative as this book is. It in fact reads mostly like mini reviews of some of the author's favorite books.

What Writing the Breakout Novel has is both a readers and an agents eye view of necessary elements in writing to entertain your readers and keep their interest.

I think the best thing that I came away with, from this reading, was something I'd already suspected. That is that when as a writer I struggle to rein myself in as regards purple prose, showing rather than telling, writing active as opposed to passive, and other such nonsense; I have to keep in mind the ideal of balance in all these areas.

I think that his book makes it clear that these are all stylistic parts of writing that can either enhance or detract from the story and that as with many other things there is a time and place for everything.

Yes there are things an author should try to do to be more marketable and those are covered here, but Donald is in no way preachy about these ideas. I believe Donald is quite clear that there is a need for balance and his notion is not to make all writers write the same- but, to make them all write better.

I'm not sure that my writing will ever reach the level of respectability that he holds out for, but I think I can easily see where I need to improve and that's what counts as to how this book works as a tool.

I will definitely recommend this along with other tools to all of my friends and even those who help me edit my work.

I especially like the notion I was able to take away that when questioning things like POV (point of view) and tense that it is not as some would try to make a person believe ; too difficult and not recommended for a new author to go down such a path; but it's more likely that the style around what the author is trying to do just needs to be focused to make it more readable.

And Donald Maass gives examples and ways for this to be accomplished.

It the difference that you see when trying to do a do it your self task at home and someone comes and says.
"You are going about that the wrong way." Then they walk away.

They could have at least shown you the right way- but maybe they don't know the right way.

What Donald Maass says here is let me show you how to make that work.

Two thumbs up.

J.L. Dobias
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LibraryThing member NatalieSW
To the point, useful, concise book on the craft of writing. I'll be reading it again soon.
LibraryThing member NoelleGreene
I've read this over and over. And will continue to do so. Over and over. As long as it takes. Probably my favorite writing book, aside from Stephen King's "On writing."
LibraryThing member devafagan
[Re-read 2013]
I'm not sure I ever read the entire book straight through, as normally I return to this and read specific chapters (he covers plot, character, setting, etc separately).

This is one of my favorite writing books, especially during planning/drafting, as it asks a lot of questions I find helpful in going deeper into the core of a story idea.… (more)
LibraryThing member JaneSteen
Where I got the book: purchased at a conference.

There's a lot of solid advice in Maass's book, so as books aimed at encouraging/guiding writers go, it's not all that bad. BUT hoo boy, it's looking a bit dated. When you start by telling your audience that e-readers will never take off and that the way to success is still going to look pretty much the same in ten years' time, a new edition is definitely in order.

And most of his examples seem to date from the 80s and 90s. He REALLY likes Anne Perry, who writes the foreword to the book (I guess she really likes him back) and examples of her genius abound.

My advice to any writer wondering whether to get this book is to check it out from the library. Next time I'm tempted into buying a craft book at a conference, remind me to check the publication date.
… (more)
LibraryThing member aliceoddcabinet
I read based on Marissa Meyer's review, but was skeptical, as I am with most Books About Writing. But this is, without a doubt, one of the only writing books that gives actual *information* on writing a novel that is not obvious ("Novels are made of Scenes!"), condescending ("My advice to new writers? Don't do it.") or just so you-are-a-special-and-unique-snowflake that it turns me off. Donald Maass, a Publishing Veteran, does not think you are a special and unique snowflake. But your book needs to be. He uses concrete advice and examples (verbs in his sentences, as Dr. Phil would say) that are applicable to writing across all genres. And yet he doesn't seem to be putting across a "tried and true" formula that you can just plug in and have a bestseller. And I can't argue with his main point: "Want to be a bestselling writer? Write a better a book."

I don't recommend this for shiny, new beginners, as his tone my put you into a panic and you may feel overwhelmed. If you still need some hand holding, if you still need to be told "believe in yourself", you're not there yet. Neither would this be of much use to those writing experimental novels (but I'm not sure experimental novelists are trying to "break out"). But for those of you who are serious about writing commercial fiction, and taking your career as a writer seriously, this is a good point of reference
… (more)
LibraryThing member Lndlindsey
Excellent book. I quickly realized that I had to keep a notebook and pen with me as I read through it. Every page had something on it that made me think of something I wanted to do to my manuscript. A very important thing about this book is that Mr. Maas repeatedly tells the reader that there is no one correct way to write a book. Each author has to write his or her own way. And the advice in the book holds to that philosophy.… (more)
LibraryThing member jakohnen
This book defines crucial elements of a breakout novel. I've attended several of Maass' workshops and he knows his stuff. The book helps in giving a sense of time and place for your story, larger-than-life characters, higher story tension, good subplots, and shows how to use these elements efficiently to write a novel that will generate interest and have the potential to hit the best sellers lists. Each section ends with checklists for review. Worth reading.… (more)
LibraryThing member aliceoddcabinet
I read based on Marissa Meyer's review, but was skeptical, as I am with most Books About Writing. But this is, without a doubt, one of the only writing books that gives actual *information* on writing a novel that is not obvious ("Novels are made of Scenes!"), condescending ("My advice to new writers? Don't do it.") or just so you-are-a-special-and-unique-snowflake that it turns me off. Donald Maass, a Publishing Veteran, does not think you are a special and unique snowflake. But your book needs to be. He uses concrete advice and examples (verbs in his sentences, as Dr. Phil would say) that are applicable to writing across all genres. And yet he doesn't seem to be putting across a "tried and true" formula that you can just plug in and have a bestseller. And I can't argue with his main point: "Want to be a bestselling writer? Write a better a book."

I don't recommend this for shiny, new beginners, as his tone my put you into a panic and you may feel overwhelmed. If you still need some hand holding, if you still need to be told "believe in yourself", you're not there yet. Neither would this be of much use to those writing experimental novels (but I'm not sure experimental novelists are trying to "break out"). But for those of you who are serious about writing commercial fiction, and taking your career as a writer seriously, this is a good point of reference
… (more)
LibraryThing member Cariola
I signed up for NaNoWriMo this year in hopes of pushing myself to set aside the research on my own novel and to start writing the story instead. I watched a NaNoWriMo webinar in which one of the authors recommended this book and the workbook of the same title. Both were already on my shelf, so I decided that reading it might be a good way to get going. Maas is both a writer and an agent, and he provides guidelines for what he feels is essential to any novel written for today's market (meaning both readers and publishers). While I can't say that I learned anything earthshaking or terribly new here ,the book is well organized and full of well-chosen examples to explain the points the author is making. I had been floundering with several structural and narrative issues, and Maas's text helped me begin working through them. I found myself thinking of my novel as more of a a whole piece--a unified work rather than scattered thought. I still have a lot of questions, but perhaps the workbook, which I plan to start tomorrow, will help with answering those as well.… (more)

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