Monday, August 24, 2009

Four Musts

I'm still re-working through Writing The Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. According to Maass, great novels are created with, "Above and beyond the setting, characters and plot, these are probably novels that altered your way of seeing the world." (pg. 39)

So, breaking this down, we have:

1) A setting for our story that is unique in its own way. It needs to be sufficiently different from what the mass majority of readers see every day. I wonder if that's why a lot of authors pick a rural setting? Rural in itself means low population, so therefore few people, when compared with the total population, truly experience rural life in all its glory. It's been a bit overdone though, I suppose. But what about choosing something even more specific than geographic location for the just of your story setting? What if you have intimate knowledge of what life is like as a miner, or you know the ins and outs of being a school custodian? Can you write a story with vivid, interesting details of these not-so-well-known settings? Can these setting provide enough food for conflict? Depending on the characters, they just may if you've got the inside scoop. I know I don't. So I have to dig deeper to discover what I'm intimately familiar with that the mass population is not!

2) As for our story characters, they need to be larger-than-life. Not zany and unbelievable, but who we wish we could be. They need to experience stuff and react to that stuff in ways that make the reader perk their eyebrows and say, "now I can learn a thing or two from this guy", or "Man, I wish I was like him."

3) Plot. Oh, that lovely plot dilemma. Think outside the box for this one. Or go inside the box and start spewing "what ifs" all over the place to get you teetering outside the box. Forget about mundane or the norm of experiences, instead find those really unique scenarios that will wake your reader up and grab his/her attention. Again, not unbelievable experiences, but ones that don't happen every single day. If they do happen every day, make them happen with a whole lot of twists so they come across as unique at least.

4) Message! That's what "novels that altered your way of seeing the world" provides. Make your story have meaning by presenting a message throughout. There's got to be some life lesson in all that showing you're doing. Something that the reader, if not consciously, subconsciously takes away from the story world they've just read. Something that makes them question if their living right, or how they can live better.

One last quote for this post from Donald Mass that struck home with me recently: "These novels change us because their authors are willing to draw upon their deepest selves without flinching. They hold nothing back, making their novels the deepest possible expression of their own experience and beliefs." (pg. 39)

That sounds like a challenge to me. A challenge that takes a whole lot of bravery. What have you incorporated in your novels that reveals something from your deepest self? Is it easy for you to read even after the umpteenth revision?

P.S. I'm so very excited! Yippey! It's finished. Hubby completed it. And now I'm on my way to New York--that is virtually, I'm on my way. Check my newest post out on my weight management blog. Exciting times ahead I say. So very exciting, indeed. Thanks to Carolyne Fyffe for the idea!

Surrendering to Him,



Jessica said...

Really great list here! Thank you for summing everything up.
I'm not sure how much of me is in my stories. I think bits and pieces, but I also think the characters are themselves. I hope. LOL I know so far my stories keep centering around forgiveness, so maybe that's something I feel strongly about and it's coming through in my writing.

Now I didn't know you had another blog! LOL Will check it out, but whatever happened, congratulations!!! :-)

Jody Hedlund said...

Wonderful list, Eileen! You summed up some of the most important things so well!I think if we can just keep working hard to incorporate them into each novel, we'll hopefully get closer to writing a novel that touches lives.

Have a great trip to New York! What are you going to be doing?

Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought said...

Fun, you have a lot of positive things going on!

I love #4 about the message. That is one of my favorite things about writing, making sure the message is powerful and fluid.
~ Wendy

Erica Vetsch said...

This book scares me rigid. I get swamped with writer's doubt when I read it, wondering if the scope is beyond me.

But I keep plugging away. :)

Lee said...

I have been mulling over ideas to write about....but they all have a bit of me in them!

Lazy Writer said...

I love that you are sharing all the things you're learning from the book. Thanks for doing it. I just went to your other blog, and that table is awesome! I wish I had one.

T. Anne said...

Great post. I've tangled my way through his book and it wasn't pretty. lol. I think reaching into the deepest most honest part of myself would and does cause me to flinch. Maybe that' why I'm writing YA, it's a lot more muted in sensual emotion.

Cindy said...

I checked out your other blog. That is so cool! I'm jealous :D

Those are great tips from the book. I really like number four, too. I think I'm going to sit down and write (very specifically) what my message is in my new WIP. I think it will help keep me focused. Thanks!

Jeanette Levellie said...

Wow, congratulations! It feels so great to be DONE with something!
Have a great time in NY,

Keli Gwyn said...

What a wealth of information, Eileen. It's easy to see why this craft book is one of the most recommended.

In my wip I've included a lesson the heroine learns that comes directly from my own life experience. Wasn't easy to put her through all I did to get her to the point where she had her ah-ha moment, but she's so much happier as a result. The Lord uses everything that happens to help grow us into the people He wants us to be, even the tough stuff.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

awesome, eileen. i'm going to steal that maass quote for a guest blog post i'm doing on therapeutic writing. thanks for the four musts!

Stephanie Faris said...

I know at times I need to dig deeper...into a part of myself even I don't admit to myself exists. But I think I do tend to hold back. Often, though, it will come out when I least expect it. It just pops up somewhere in a WIP and I say, "Wow. Where did THAT come from!"

Tabitha Bird said...

Glad to have found your blog. Thanks for joining mine. And here, I see are all our blogging friends:) So nice to find another great blog to read.
I loved number 4. I do love a novel that makes me see the world differently or ignites questions I may not have asked other wise.
Great post. I'll be coming back.

Katie Ganshert said...

That's a great summary! And very helpful as I work my way through the workbook. Thanks, Eileen and have fun in NY!

Jill Kemerer said...

You hit it on the "not zany and unbelievable" character point. I read Bridget Jones Diary and loved it because under the silly situations I could relate to Bridget.

Carrie Harris said...

I read this book and can't disagree with you... except for the zany part. There's such a thing as too zany (says the comedy writer), but I can't put a value on a book that makes me laugh.

Which isn't exactly what you were saying, but I had to put it out there. :)