Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass (Part 17)

This entry is part 17 of 27 in the series Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

Greatness: Strength

Some authors are tempted to make anti-heroes who are weak and somehow find the hidden talent to break out of the mold. Don’t be one of these authors. Please. I beg you. Strength of character and triumph is what draws in the reader.

This doesn’t mean that your character can’t have problems.

A great character is one that not only deepens our understanding of ourselves but that opens us to ranges of potential, a riot of passionate response to the problems of existence. Grim chronicles of human frailty are the job of sociology or, in literature, the business of minor genres like dialect novels, regional novels and docudramas. If you truly wish to write the breakout novel, commit yourself to characters that are larger-than-life. Your fiction will be bigger for it.

Greatness: Inner Conflict

“Accomplishment already accomplished does not hold our attention.” In other words, “what have you done for me lately?”

Characters without issues are really dull. Think about people you know who are practically perfect in every way. Do you enjoy listening to their exploits? I don’t.

I want characters who are striving to reach some goal. I want to reach with them for that goal. I want to be part of that success.

So does your reader.

Inner conflict arises from personal contradictions. The character tries to overcome these issues during the course of the novel (or series). Without something like this to drive them, their actions might seem a bit mechanical. So take heed.

Greatness: Self-Regard

Do you take yourself seriously? This weekend I wrote in my journal “I suck.” Actually, I wrote it several times.

Now who on earth wants to read that? Nobody. That’s why it’s in my journal.

However, the idea that I would write that down and then come back the next day and try to dig myself out of that hole is interesting (well, at least a little). What makes me do that? I care about myself. I want to succeed and I try my best to put everything I’ve got into it because no one is going to give a damn whether I quit or not except me.

This is what self-regard is all about. Do you care about your own emotions? Are you passionate? Does this translate to your characters? If not, then why are your writing?

Greatness: Wit and Spontaneity

I really liked this section. Even though the articles on this site are an expression of my frustration with myself I’m often described by friends and acquaintances as witty and spontaneous. I also hear things like, “Oh I wish I’d said that!” Especially when I crack wise to people who deserve a good verbal beating.

Larger than life characters have this quality too.

Does that make me larger than life? Maybe and perhaps that’s why I hate the term.

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