Book Review: Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

Being a writer is probably 80 percent instinct and 20 percent skill. Most writers have amazing, subversive, expansive imaginations, yet we also seem to have an innate, unharnessable quality that allows us to translate those swirling worlds that exist within our brainmeats to comprehensible, accessible, and (if we’re doing it right) entertaining stories for our readers.

Despite the innateness of this quality, or perhaps because of it, we do ourselves a favor by taking the occasional class or seminar, or reading the occasional book, that helps us further develop and refine our craft. Writing the Breakout Novel by literary agent Donald Maass is one such book.

In WtBN, Maass does a great job of breaking down and describing the many elements that go into writing a novel (premise, theme, conflict , etc.). The real gem of this book though is the well-structured information dump of the differences between fiction that soars above the average and ordinary and fiction that, to readers, may come off as dull and uninspired. Maass includes tons of examples of both mainstream literary and genre fiction to help illustrate his points (and provoke a sense of eye-rolling self-satisfaction depending on how many of the examples you’ve already read), and if you’re the analytical type or an avid reader, you’ll identify right off what he’s describing. After learning what makes a novel breakout the next step is learning how, and I think Maass has actually created an exercise book as companion to this one.

I highly recommend this for writers. Even if you’re comfortable and confident in your skills, there is almost a certainty that this book will inspire you to think of your current or future novels in new and exciting ways.

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Bonus content: Tom Waits Tribute by Thunderclap Newman (son of The Amazing Hip)

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11 comments

  1. Thanks for the recommendation! Maass has repped some of my absolute favorite authors, and I’m excited to hear his insights on the industry!

    -M

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    1. Yay! I think you’ll really enjoy it!

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      1. I am only about 25% in and my book is already 8 times as epic! …I am liking this ratio!

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        1. That’s absolute magic! Like real magic :) Awesome!

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  2. I don’t write novels, but this book sounds intriguing enough to read anyway! Thanks for your review.

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    1. It definitely is! Even if you just love to read, it gives you great insight into the inner workings of a novel. Thanks for commenting.

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  3. A few months ago, I binge-read a bunch of craft books, and this one was one of the best. It does a great job of explaining concepts that tend to get glossed over, like the importance of having both internal and external goals, bridging conflict, etc.

    Definitely worth a read.

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    1. Yep, agreed. Have you read Jack Bickham’s Elements of Fiction Writing: Scene and Structure, too? A MUST read for fiction writers, I think. Thanks for stopping by!

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      1. I haven’t, but I’ll check it out. Another good one is Million Dollar Outlines by David Farland. Thanks for the suggestion. :)

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        1. I get his Daily Kick! The loads of good writing advice just never stop :) Thank you!

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