To get beyond my writer’s self-doubt, I decided it was time to read Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass to see if he had any suggestions that would help me out.
He sure did. Just about every chapter gave me ideas.
One chapter talked about stakes, which are the inherent conflict comes from a world that is not safe. If the world seems safe, it needs hidden dangers. I’ve already created a world with bandits, pirates and wild animals. Now I need to add some more traps for my hero and heroine, in the form of friends who are really foes.
Which gets me to another of Maass’ points. There just doesn’t have to be one inherent conflict in a novel. However, one needs to stand out as the major source of conflict and tension.
Harry Potter comes to mind. At the beginning of the series, Harry’s conflict with his family is the major conflict in his life. He leaves them behind, only to find the real source of conflict in his life, in the person of Voldemort. Both conflicts follow him through the entire series, playing off each other.
Maass also devotes time writing description, which is one of my weak areas. His suggestion to describe places and settings through the eyes of the character, the way that person experiences the place is a good one. He does a great job explaining how to develop characters in just one chapter. I can summarize it in one quote: “Identify what is extraordinary in people who are otherwise ordinary.”
Another issue I’ve wrestled with is dialogue. How to make it interesting and natural? One way is to make them say things I never would, because I’m restrained by politeness. I had to think about that. This may explain the fascination many have for reality television. The people on those shows often say to each other what we secretly want to but never would. So the characters in novels can say what we cannot, and entertain us while they do it.
Each chapter concludes with a checklist, which will be very helpful while editing. This book isn’t for those who want to write light easy reads. If you are looking to take your writing to another level, Writing the Breakout Novel could be a useful resource.
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