on February 22, 2006
I'm a published author with a division of Random House. I wondered what this book might have to offer, after hearing great things about it from amateurs to pros.
My response is two-fold. Yes, I'm one of the midlist authors that Maass addresses, and I did find some true--albeit painful--comments that pertain to my mediocre success. The man knows the market and the publishing industry. Don't let artistic snobbery keep you from seeing the realities that he portrays here. I still have much to learn, and some of those lessons have started with the reading of this book.
On the other hand, the book is focused on commercial success. Like many others, I get suspicious when I see Nicholas Sparks mentioned as one of the examples of a breakout novelist. In a world of Starbucks and WalMarts, do we really want every writer to break things down to the same commercial aspects? I don't.
I have novels in stores; I've earned money (though not enought to live on) from this side job; and ohhhh, how I'd love to make a great living at it. As Maass points out, though, those who want to move past the midlist must adhere to certain principles of great storytelling. Great writers are not always great storytellers. Joining the two crafts can create miraculous things, and this book has challenged me to do so. Putting aside my artistic differences, I believe it can be done.
on January 27, 2005
Maass does go beyond the usual bland advice found in how-to-write books in that he tries to say which methods produce better results. He discusses "Premise", Stakes, Time and Place, Characters, Plot, "Contemporary Plot Techniques" ("nonlinear" narratives, character-driven stories), "Multiple Viewpoints, Subplots, Pace, Voice, Endings" (all in one chapter), "Advanced Plot Structures" (generational novels, whole life novels, historical novels, linked short stories), and Theme. His chapter on Stakes is particularly useful.
The problem I have with the book is the usual one: that the book assumes that every reader (and the would-be writer reading this book) has more or less the same tastes. Some of the books held up as exemplary novels to learn from, I found appalling.
Another problem is the occasional attempt to pander to the avant-garde. An example is "Nonlinear Narrative". There is no discussion/evaluation of this experimental technique. Nor is there any mention of how few readers there are for such material. But that's okay, because the matter is immediately dropped after two pages anyway, and it's back to the thrillers again.
Still, even when he's rehashing the same old ABCs, Maass does so in a lively way. So, beginning writers will certainly learn much from this book. And it is a valid point that Maass has not written a "breakout" novel himself, so how could this book tell us all we need to know to do it! It doesn't, but that does not mean that there isn't some useful information in the book.
No serious writer should read only one book on writing. The only protection from the author's tastes is to read a variety of books--not as easy as it sounds because most of them have the same tastes and most say the same things in different words and with different examples.
on January 15, 2007
Donald Maass gives a course in how to turn a good story into a breakout novel. He doesn't give advice on how to craft beautiful prose in the mode of Marquez or Naipaul. He's not teaching how to write the next To Kill a Mockingbird. He doesn't even attempt to supplant the craft as taught by the Iowa Writer's Workshop. What he writes about is turning a good story into a commercial success.
Like his advice, it's straightforward and a bit formulaic, but why would you pick this book up with the title, How to Write the Breakout Novel, if you didn't want advice on commercial success? That'd be silly if you ask me.
Maass knows the market as one of the top agents in publishing and as a successful novelist. He's given advice to his clients and it's propelled them to the top of the Bestseller List. Sure he uses personal examples and touts his client list, but it's an impressive client list, believe me. I don't like all the books he uses as examples, but that's personal choice and my choice hasn't impacted sales numbers at all.
I found his advice on Theme to be really good. To be honest, I hadn't considered starting with a theme and working to craft around something which resonates with the reader simply and clearly. I know all great stories integrate theme, but I didn't really understand that it could be a conscious thing on the part of the writer. Maybe that's my own naivety, but that's why I'm reading self-help books. It's completely changed the way I'm writing my next story.
The Checklist style construction makes recollection of what each chapter covered simple.
Want to know what it covers? Here are the contents:
Why Write the Breakout Novel
Time and Place
Contemporary Plot Techniques
Multiple Viewpoints, Subplots, Pace, Voice, and Endings
Advanced Plot Structures
Read each and every one. I found value throughout the book.
- CV Rick
on December 27, 2004
OK, so I will first start with the drawbacks. They're basically what the unsatsified reviewers of this prduct said - Maas likes to talk about himself and isn't shy about using this book to promote himself and his clients. A little annoying but BIG DEAL!
This book was extremely helpful. I've read many books on writing before. All are useful in their own way, but this one was useful through and through. Each chapter offered something important. The major contribution of this book was getting me to think BIGGER. To see the novel as an orchestra and to consider what I wanted the final product to look like and how to achieve it. It was also helpful how he reviewed different book and what it was about them that was successful. Read this book and every now and then look inside and consider whether you're following all the suggestions he offers. Writing a great novel (breakout novel) is more work, true, and with this book he helps you figure out just what work it is that needs to be done.
I can't see a book being bad if it follows all of the criteria.
on July 14, 2001
If I could, I would give this book ten stars. I am in the midst of writing my first novel, (truth be told I've started 1,000), and I am reading this book simultaneously. I read "On Writing" by Stephen King, and that has some great advice, "Don't use adverbs" and "Kill your darlings" to name a few tenets. However, in reading "Writing the Breakout Novel" I found myself questioning the plot I'm working on, questioning my characters, and with about 5 minutes of thought, bringing something to my book that makes it 200,000% better. Even though I feel like I've got an interesting story, Maass's advice helped me to make it matter. I've found myself rooting for my characters, adding dimension, changing some outcome. All in all, I feel like Maass and Stephen King are standing over my shoulders going, "What about this? and that?" King's book inspired me, Maass's book challenges me. Unlike the plots that I've tried before, this one grips me, keeps me writing. If I get stuck, Maass helps me through it. Unlike some instructional writers, Maass injects passages from successful authors and books to illustrate his point. The reader can easily decipher what he means, and see it in a variety of writing styles. Maass is telling the truth, and the truth will revolutionize your writing.
on August 23, 2005
Writing the Breakout Novel
Make your story better
This review is for Writer's Digest Books (an imprint of F&W Publications Inc.) first edition. Although there is no publication date given in my copy of the book, Amazon.com lists it as August 2002. The book's copyright date is 2001, and the author indicates he was writing part of it in June 2000. Therefore, his comments on the state of the fiction publishing industry are as of the turn of the century.
Mr. Maass wrote several novels himself. The four found on Amazon.com he published from December 1982 through March 1983. All are out of print.
Donald Maass has the credentials, though. In 1980, he founded the Donald Maass literary agency, a unique agency that only represents fiction. That's twenty-five years of reading manuscripts. In 2001, his agency sold over a hundred novels to publishers.
Throughout WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL, Mr. Maass includes excerpts from dozens of great stories to exemplify his guidelines for getting out of the midlist malaise. These references do not bloat the text; they are useful.
I have completed two literary novels that I decided are not good enough. With a good start on the third, I thought it wise to buy WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL. It was.
In chapter two, Mr. Maass writes that the breakout premise must have four elements: plausibility, inherent conflict, originality and gut emotional appeal. He explains, with examples, precisely what constitutes these elements, but you will find concise, workable summaries like this list for his guidelines. In applying this to my own work, I believe that I have the first three covered, but I could use some more of that gut emotional appeal. Mr. Maass uses THE NOTEBOOK by Nicholas Sparks as an example. I thought of THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN by Mitch Albom. Both have been number one best sellers.
Mr. Maass writes, "Life-and-death stakes are empty unless they are tied to underlying human worth," and he gives examples that make you realize that a plot with some relevance to society as a whole will attract a broader spectrum of readers. I saw that I could add another layer to my story. It may or may not breakout, but it is going to be better for reading this book.
If you write novels, read WRITING THE BREAK OUT NOVEL. Mr. Maass has the credentials. He can tell you how to make your story better.
on December 5, 2001
Don't be deluded by the title of this book. It's a dynamite resource for strong writing--whether or not you're interested in writing a breakout novel. Mr. Maass's insights and suggestions are excellent, presented in an easy-to-digest manner, and translate easily to your current manuscript-in-progress.
While the book deals with novels, the concepts presented are also valuable to short story authors and to nonfiction writers. In my humble opionion, all writers can benefit greatly from this book.
There aren't many books on writing I haven't studied, but I recommend very few. This one will be on the Recommended Reading List I distribute at Creative Writing seminars, lectures, and workshops I conduct, and to those writers who are active in my Aids4Writers program.
on June 16, 2001
Okay -- I'm tearing through this book like a lunatic and revising my current novel, VINCALIS THE AGITATOR (due from Warner-Aspect in March of 2002), simultaneously, and I cannot even begin to tell you how much I've learned.
I've cut chunks from VINCALIS, added new scenes, removed unnecessary characters, combined minor characters to create fewer but more important characters, added tension and conflict to EVERY page and EVERY scene, found dozens of ways to add new depth and resonance . . . the list goes on and on and on.
VINCALIS is bleeding, but bleeding good. Writing the Breakout Novel is not a book on how to create a formulaic bestseller -- it is a book on how to create the book you want to write, and make THAT book fly off the shelves. It is an absolute essential, as vital to the serious novelist as Maass's other writing book, The Career Novelist.
Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass. If I did stars, I'd give this one ten plus the rocket to get there.
on June 4, 2005
"Writing the Breakout Novel" is a generally good book about what it takes to write a satisfying novel. The whole book revolves around creating characters and a plot so that an average reader will want to continue reading. Yes, the point of this book is to help the writer create "commercial" fiction, but in the current publishing climate, commercial fiction is the only fiction that will get into bookstores.
Mr. Maass has written "Writing the Breakout Novel" in an engaging style, which tells me that he does know a thing or two about writing. Only a few things bothered me about the book: 1. Maass overemphasized his status as an agent. It's important for the reader to know that he's an agent, as that lends credibility to his writing. But, he seems a little too proud of his job. 2. He uses Anne Perry, one of his clients, in too many examples in this book. This comes across as being somewhat self-serving in that he seems to be promoting one of his clients heavily in this book. 3. In the last chapter, Maass implies that an agent who doesn't live in New York isn't a good agent. I personally believe that the relationship between an agent and a client is more important than where that agent chooses to set up an office. In an age when just about anything can be done electronically from any distance, having an agent in New York is not necessary. If the agent is doing a good job selling a client's work, then location doesn't matter (as an example, I work about 1600 miles away from my supervisor's office, and the work still gets done).
Overall, I enjoyed reading this book, and it helped motivate me to start writing my next manuscript.
on June 27, 2001
If I had to choose the one book of writing instruction that is a must to own above all others, Writing the Breakout Novel would be it. The techniques presented are filled with insight, based on many years of experience, and explained in such a way that you will benefit from them whether you are a hopeful new writer or a seasoned veteran. Donald Maass makes you think. His book challenges and educates while remaining one of the most entertaining volumes that I've ever read on the subject of writing.
More than once I've found myself reading a chapter of this book only to put it down and rush to the computer to put what I've learned into immediate action. This book gives you the tools you need to transform your manuscript and your entire writing career.