Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass (Part 26)

This entry is part 26 of 27 in the series Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

High Moments, Turning Corners, Killing Characters

Mmmm. Puppies.

Ok, I’m not going to go on about the puppies, but really once that kind of thing gets in your head it’s tough to get it out again. Or as I said to two friends in a hotel room once, “There are some things you just can’t unsee.”

And that’s sort of what this section is about. Part pumping your fist in the air, part memorable scenes, and in the end, things you just cannot forget. If your novel is missing these types of scenes, how is your reader going to connect in a deep and meaningful way with your book? Better yet, why on earth would they recommend it to friends?

No really, Jessica, you need to buy this book. There’s this sentence on page one hundred and twenty seven that will just blow your mind. The use of alliteration changed my life.

This quote doesn’t come from Maass. It’s mine, and the point is that you are never going to hear this kind of talk from anyone except maybe a handful of dedicated literary souls. Nothing wrong with that, but Flaubert isn’t going to pay the rent.

Structuring the Plot

Up until this point, you might accuse Maass of flinging platitudes down from on high. I mean, yes, it’s wonderful to talk about “high moments” and other things you must have in your book, but how the heck do you work that in?

Maass knows what you’re thinking:

At this point you may be thinking, All that sounds great but what about structure? How can I be sure my conflicts will escalate in a powerful way, that they will provide a sense of rising action?

And so Maass begins by introducing several concepts in rapid fashion, structures employed by other novelists to address your particular needs. It isn’t an exhaustive list, but it is a start. He talked about frame stories and flashbacks. He talks facade stories (which are based on ideas we hold true but through the course of the story are proven false). He also touches on visitation stories (someone comes to town, hi-jinx ensue). But he never dives down further than a few sentences.

I’m not entirely sure what the purpose of this section is because it could be so much more. Frankly, I need it to be more.

Larger Plot Structures

This is where Maass dives off the pier and into the deep water of archetypal theory. This is probably the fifth or sixth book in a row where someone has done this kind of thing. Read Hero With a Thousand Faces. Read The Writers Journey. Super. I’ve read those books and I’ve written about those books. Great books, but this isn’t helpful. Hopefully there will be more in the next section.

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