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Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling Paperback – October 16, 2012
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"It might be argued that every literary agent knows a thing or two about story. But having authored several must-have nooks on the craft of writing...we think it's an indelible truth that literary agent...Donald Maass is an authority figure on the topic." --Writer Unboxed
About the Author
Donald Maass heads the Donald Maass Literary Agency in New York City, which represents more than 150 novelists and sells more than 150 novels every year to publishers in America and overseas. He is a past president of the Association of Authors Representatives, Inc., and is the author of several books of interest to fiction writers, including Writing the Breakout Novel, The Fire in Fiction, and The Breakout Novelist (all from Writer's Digest Books).
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Top Customer Reviews
While I do think Maass offers some exercises that are helpful enough to make this book "above average" and reading it is wonderfully inspirational, this book rehashes a great deal of material from his other works. If you've not read The Fire in Fiction, this might be a better place to start because it reads like The Fire in Fiction Lite, in my view. Maass gives entire chapters on The Inner Journey and The Outer Journey...subjects he has covered quite well for me. I understood this in Fire, that every turning point in a story has an inner and outer component.
In Chapter 3 Levels of Story, again, he repeats himself. He tells us that tension comes from conflicting emotions. Well, yes, I read that in Fire in Fiction and employed it. The concept of plot layers? Yep, read that in Breakout Workbook. There's not much new here except that Writer's Digest Books must have changed their editor from a trained monkey to an actual human being. The editing was quite good, and there are a few helpful exercises. However, if I could only buy one book by Donald Maass, I would make it The Breakout Novelist: Craft and Strategies for Career Fiction Writers. It reads like an amalgamation of all his amazing genius from, if not a master writer (still wonder what his pen name is), then at least a master mentor to a great number of writers.
If it takes you a little time to pick up on key concepts, then this is a great start. Otherwise, if you read and picked up on the important bits in Maass's other books, this one isn't really all that necessary.
Maass take both a common sense and analytical approach to evaluating 21st century fiction. He points out that novels have also evolved to meet the needs and wants of readers, and successful writers understand this.
“High-impact comes from a combination of two factors: great stories and beautiful writing . . . The publishing industry has a convenient term for these wonder books: literary/commercial fiction.” (2-3)
Maass argues that successful 21st century novels are high-impact novels. They appeal to the masses and cross over from genre or literary fiction to the bestseller lists.
What they have in common is that like genre fiction, they tell great stories, and like literary fiction, they are beautifully written and explore character.
He also says, “[High-impact] panders to no one. It speaks to everyone.” Sounds like good news for writers!
“Commercial and literary successes are the result of hard work, instinct, study, and the honing of craft. They are not mutually exclusive . . . strong storytelling and beautiful writing are the twin elements that make a big lasting impression on readers.” (208-09)
His chapters give writers the tools for hard work, study, and honing your craft.
Here’s a breakdown of the chapters:
Chapters 1 & 2: Current trends and rising above a category.
Chapters 3 & 4: The writer’s inner and outer journeys.
Chapter 5: Standout Character; this is an excellent chapter.
Chapter 6: Three levels of story; his breakdown of scene writing is impressive.
Chapter 7: Beautiful Prose; this chapter highlights high-impact novels by showing the relationship between great plots and beautiful writing.
Chapter 8: The writer and the process; he comes full circle and turns to earlier discussions to bring his points together.
Chapter 9: Element of Awe; he inspires the reader “to make good art” as Neil Gaiman would say.
Each chapter ends with “21st Century Tools,” sets of questions related to the chapter and designed to guide a writer through the creative process. As I read, I worked my way through most of the questions, which is the primary reason this book took so long to finish.
If you’re the kind of person who is inclined to dismiss the questions and be satisfied with reading the chapter, I would advise against that strategy.
I found the questions invaluable. As I explored the questions, I felt as if I were in a workshop. I’m in the middle of revising a novel and took the time to apply the questions to my project. The questions and suggestions were helpful as I revised scenes.
Because of my background in teaching, I realize the work and refining that goes into creating questions, which are helpful and practical. Maass’ questions are not busy work. If the results I’ve had working through these questions is any indication, I’d say they are a valuable part of the book.
It is poetic that I have finished this book while in the middle of a week long writing workshop taught by Maass. In person, he is even more impressive and his insight more profound while being remarkably approachable and unpretentious.
A must read for any serious author. It deserves a re-read.
If you have some of Mr. Maass's other books, as I do, this one includes some information from The Fire in Fiction, Writing the Breakout Novel, and the Breakout Novelist. Although I have all those other books, I bought 21st Century Fiction anyway, and I'm glad I did. It includes some newer thinking about what makes good novels as well as some ideas from the earlier books.
Being one of the foremost literary agents in the US, Mr. Maass is always worth paying attention to, not only to learn how to write good literature but also to know -- although he doesn't come right out and say so -- what a stellar agent looks for in writers' manuscripts.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The only, and I mean only, problem with the book is it's lousy cover (a mid-twentieth century design for a...Read more