Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass (Part 27)

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

Contemporary Plot Techniques

I’m going to break with my promise above to write 10,000 more words about plot and summarize the rest of this book in quick fashion. At this point, you’ve already read close to 11,000 words. If you’re not certain about the things Maass can teach you, there isn’t much else I can do. Looking at the next few areas, I personally see little I can add to the discussion. I’ve already poured my heart out on the main topics.

The New Shape of the Novel
The Character-Driven Story
Self-Discovery in the Plot-Driven Novel
Nonlinear Narrative
Tension on Every Page

Criticize John Grisham if you must, but there is this to learn from him: Tension on every page is a technique that keeps readers glued to a novel, even in the absence of artistic prose, rich atmosphere, complex characters and lofty means. It is the application of macroconflict on a microscale.

It is a key breakout skill.

If you read all of those headline above, you might wonder what it is you’re missing. Check it out by all means, but I didn’t find this section helpful. Reading novels by breakout writers is probably more instructive.

Multiple Viewpoints, Subplots, Pace, Voice, Endings

Here, I would recommend looking at Albert Zuckerman’s book for more actual assistance. The idea of how many views and subplots, the pace of the story, and the way to work toward an ending are dealt with in far more detail in Writing the Block Buster Novel than in Maass’ text. What Maass does accomplish here is reminding the author of all the questions they need to ask while reading, which is really I guess Maass’ speciality.

Breaking Out

This section is about getting published and pushing the limit. It’s far too limited considering Maass’ experience and the fact that he is an experienced agent. No biggie though. I don’t expect folks to giveaway their secrets entirely. Anyway, like most books of this type, people are not really going to read all the way to the back. Just like I as the reviewer, dropped out of the race when I made it halfway through.


This is one of those books that will hit you in the gut. But like anything that does that to you, this one will eventually wear on your patience because in the end it is you, the author, who needed to get to work. No one can tell you exactly what it is you need to do, but they can show you the way to get there and the questions you might want to ask. In the end, it’s work, hard work and honesty that will set your book apart from the pack. Maass’ voice is a dose of realism in the vast ocean of pretty self-help writing guides.

Leave a Reply

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