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Book Review: Writing the Breakout Novel

Writing the Breakout NovelWriting the Breakout Novel

by Donald Maass

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have a library of books on how to write, each supposed to rocket me to the next level, morph me from mid-list writer to best-seller. Each of them provided some tidbit that is now integral to my writing style, something I remember and use every time I sit down at my computer and unleash my muse.

Well if I’m honest, some of them were a waste of money. Those, I tossed so they don’t remind me how I wasted my hard-earned money.

But Writing the Breakout Novel is one I keep as a reference. Donald Maass’ voice is one I enjoy. It’s down-to-earth, friendly, not pedantic, not judgmental. He doesn’t frighten me or make me feel the information he’s sharing is something I won’t be able to achieve. He’s humble about what he’s achieved, which makes me feel I too can conquer those mountaintops. Here are some of the high points:

  • He includes critical aspects of good fiction–premise, time and place, plot, characters, techniques, viewpoints, pacing, voice, endings. In fact, he has most of what causes problems for writers.
  • Each chapter includes a checklist, reminding me what I should have learned from that section. Since this is not casual reading for me–I read these types of books to improve my craft–I like this. For example, the chapter on ‘Premise’ includes this checklist:
    • A breakout premise can be built
    • Plausibility means that the story could happen to any of us
    • Inherent conflict means problems in your ‘place’.
  • Where most writer’s how-to books warn that the preponderance of novels are never published–plead with us not to get our hopes up–Maas has the guts to say, “If you have indeed written your breakout novel, chances are some people along the road to publication are going to think so, too. Big things are going to happen.” Wow. Now I’m excited about my prospects. Sure, I heard his disclaimer–if I have indeed written that magnificent novel–but Maas assumes if I’ve taken his advice to heart, I will write a great novel, and proceeds to explain what the next steps are. He includes Breakout Publishing, Breakout Living, Success, Sequels, Series and Beyond. OMG. I might hyperventilate.

The only thing I found wrong in this book was on page 31 when Maas confidently puts in stone words that are probably haunting him as you read my review, “The e-revolution may not save us; indeed, it may not happen.” It’s happened and woe the writer or publisher or agent who sticks his finger in that dike.

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17 thoughts on “Book Review: Writing the Breakout Novel

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