Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass (Part 14)

This entry is part 14 of 27 in the series Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

Working with Historical Forces and Social Trends

Whatever the scope of your novel, it will benefit from a depiction of the social context in which it takes place. Your characters life in society, but in which strata? At what point is their social position most keenly felt? At what moment does it change? Does your heroine’s status rise or fall? How can she tell? Are your cast of characters aware of the way in which society is evolving? No? Well, why not? A wide-angle view of the civilization around your story will magnify the story in exciting ways.

This is the last paragraph in this section and it proves my theory that the last sentence in a paragraph usually contains the best thought, just as the last paragraph in a section does the best job of summing up.

In this case, the idea is weaving in the forces and trends of the moment into your story to deepen the sense of place and time. This is pretty basic stuff, but often writers just go into documentation mode and blab on about a lot of details without putting them into relative context in their characters lives.

Caleb Carr is a master of weaving these details into place. In Angel of Darkness, he works gobs of information about the pending Spanish-American war without giving a dissertation. Well, no, that isn’t quite right. What Carr does is give a dissertation but the reader never feels that way. People and customs, far flung outpost of empire, intrigue and the mechanics of building a case for the prosecution of war, all of these elements could lead to a terribly boring book. Yet, Carr has accomplished just the opposite. Maass’ quote above is something for every author to think about as they work with the details of time and place.

God at Work in the World

I had problems with this section and it wasn’t because of Richard Dawkins. Rather it was because I myself have failed to include anything in my books and stories resembling the sense that the universe is any bigger than the characters and the events themselves. Maass suggests that readers connect more deeply with a work of fiction if they see some reflection of a wider universe at work, and I have to agree. Again, it’s one of those things that you know will work but somehow it doesn’t make it into the plotting. Keep an eye on this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *