Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook: Introduction

by RS on August 15, 2015

As I mentioned in the previous post, I’ll be working through the various exercises in Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakthrough Novel Workbook. Because I am anxious to start,  I have mentally adjusted of how to approach this rewrite. I want to make sure that I follow his suggestions to the letter. So no short-cuts. No getting impatient with the process.

Before I booted the laptop, I sat down with my blackberry shake and read the introduction. Maass writes about the changes in the publishing industry (the workbook was published in 2004, so we know of the tremendous shifts in traditional and self-publishing, not to mention the growth of e-books).

He recommends that we read the actual book that inspired the workbook and digest the concepts like inner conflict, personal stakes, plot weaving and so forth.

Below (along with my comments) is what stood out for me in this introduction. I felt as if he were speaking to me.

Writing a breakout novel is the hardest work you will ever do. But it can be done, and done by anyone with basic fiction writing skills and the patience and determination to take his fiction all the way to the highest level of achievement.

Well, now, that’s encouraging. I found this interesting because there have been so many times I’ve questioned whether I had it in me to write a stellar story.

The workbook has many exercises, and I can vouch that when Don taught his workshop at the Writer Unboxed Unconference, I felt overwhelmed. Plus I wondered whether any of this would work with Julius. This is what he says about genres:

It does not matter what type of novel you are writing: literary, mainstream, fantasy, romance, historical, or whatever. The techniques of breakout fiction are universal. The cross genre lines. They will tend to make a novel longer, though not necessarily. Stay open to what the exercises give you. If you feel overwhelmed, take a break.

When I first looked at the questions in the workbook, I scanned them and mentally answered them. Back then I was impatient, but I wasn’t open to making major changes. And with that came the crashing middle far too many times. Take note of this:

Do not rush. You are about to expand your mind and open the possibilities in your current novel. Let them sink in, collide with each other, multiply and dance…Above all aim high. Do not be satisfied with two or three positive changes for your novel; not even ten, twenty, or thirty. I expect the exercises in this book will give you not just scores, but hundreds of new ideas. Use them all.

There’s a long section in the workbook concerning tension and how much to include.  Maass writes that there’s never too much tension. In fact, 80 percent of the novels his agency rejects isn’t because of too much tension, but too little. When working through this long section of exercises, there might come a point you want to give up and walk away. Maass writes:

“Resist the impulse to quit early. Do it all. Writing a breakout novel is a journey, an awakening, an education. Get the full benefit….Give yourself the space you need to achieve true mastery…It takes time.”

Time. Patience. Do it all. I hear the bell ringing. Off to class and start Part One: Character Development.


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