Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass (Part 15)

This entry is part 15 of 27 in the series Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

The Secret Ingredient

Retail is details.

I don’t care what it is that you’re selling: books, movies, groceries, whatever. If you don’t pay attention to details, your customer is going to leave you with an empty register and a lot of inventory.

In this case, the customer is the reader and the author who fails to pay attention to details is the author who will be working a corporate day job or bagging the aforementioned groceries soon enough (I happen to be the former, though the latter seems increasingly attractive as I lug my weary bones in each day).

This doesn’t mean that you should write with violet ink rather:

Marshaling detail and learning the art of writing in nouns and verbs are essential to success in any type of writing. That is especially true in the breakout novel. […] The breakout novelist does not merely set a scene; she unveils a unique place, one resonant with a sense of time, woven through with social threads and full of destinies.

Talk yourself down off the ledge now because Maass really cranks up the sublime in this section. However, there is a simple rule that you will find in nearly every writing book (include Stephen King’s On Writing): get rid of adjectives and adverbs.
No, really.

Go through your latest chapter-story-scene and count up your adjectives. Then, turn around and count up the adverbs. Now, count up the nouns and verbs. If you have a a ratio of 1:1 (adverb/adjective:noun/verb), you’re in trouble, See what you can do to get that ratio down to .1:1.

Then, when you’re totally frustrated with this exercise go and grab two bestsellers and try the same thing. I know it sucks. The truth hurts. I love my adjectives and adverbs but they kill the flow of your fiction. Not only that, but overused modifiers will bore the living crap out of your readers. Learn from my mistakes.

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