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The Breakout Novelist: Craft and Strategies for Career Fiction Writers Spiral-bound – March 14, 2011
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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Donald Maass' The Breakout Novelist is an all-inclusive guide, spiral-bound for ease of reference while working. Maass, an experienced author and literary agent, presents strategies that generations of authors have applied to craft sublime fiction, from core elements (character-building, plot navigation, etc.) to advanced techniques involving point of view, suspense, and the application of voice. Exercises for practicing these techniques round out this excellent resource. --Midwest Book Review
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The second half is all about the publishing industry. It's a little outdated already, having been written in 2010 (when the ebook publishing industry was still in its infancy, not the ungainly waddling toddler it is today), but still useful. I found that part most educational, and it was eye-opening (and depressing) to see how convoluted the industry is. The underlying assumption was that if you write a truly great novel, and you have a good agent, you're guaranteed to get published and garner a fan base (and then you need to keep writing better and growing your skill). That seems contradictorily simple, given how convoluted the publishing industry is (according to Maass) but maybe it's the carrot to balance the stick reality of "you will never be self-supporting as an author". I recommend picking this one up AFTER you've written an revised a manuscript. It will certainly get you thinking about your story and characters. If you pick it up before you've written anything (like I did) you may find yourself intimidated out of writing (which is what I'm currently struggling with). Either way, it's a good resource.
Reviewed by C. J. Singh
Couple of years ago, I read three fiction-craft books by Donald Maass in the order they were published:
Writing the Breakout Novel (2000),
Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (2004),
The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques (2009)
and posted a review of the latter on amzon.com.
Maass's three fiction-craft books, written over a span of fifteen years, overlapped somewhat in contents. This redundancy he has skillfully excised in the compact three-part new book, beautifully designed with spiral binding. Introducing "The Breakout Novelist," Maass writes: "[It's] a story doctor on call. That is the purpose of this book, I have assembled here the best of my previous books on fiction technique" (p 1).
The first part, "Mastering Breakout Basics," lucidly explains fundamentals such as premise, character, plot, subplots, and theme. He cites numerous examples from novels including Anne Tyler's "The Accidental Tourist," Judith Guest's "Ordinary People," and David Guterson's "Snow Falling on Cedars." The concluding chapter, "Practical Tools," comprises thirty-five exercises.
The second part, "Achieving Breakout Greatness," is a compact version of his acclaimed book "The Fire in Fiction." Examples from novels include E.L. Doctorow's "The March" (2005), Gary Shteyngart's "Absurdistan" (2006), Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" (2006), Ethan Canin's "America, America" (2008), and Don DeLillo's "Falling Man" (2008). The concluding chapter, "Practical Tools, " comprises the next set of exercises, bringing the total to seventy-three.
The third part, "Building a Breakout Career," focuses on pitching, getting an agent, contracts, as well as the emerging field of e-publishing. It's an update of his "The Career Novelist: A Literary Agent Offers Strategies for Success" (1996).
Every now and then, I receive inquiries from readers of my amazon reviews for specific suggestions. To the new reader, I'd say, "In 'The Breakout Novelist,' Maass delivers the best of his previous books. This is the one. Go to it."
-- C. J. Singh
Yours in literature,