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The Fire in Fiction

Just finished this outstanding book by Donald Maass on the novel.

The Fire in Fiction is Maass’s clearest enunciation yet of what separates the competent but disappointing novel from those that “effortlessly lift off.” It is a hard-hitting and also quite funny account of the types of manuscripts that come across his desk (and also, unfortunately, that get published and sink.) He gets even more specific than in “Writing the Breakout Novel” about the type of characters we empathize with as well as those who surprise us.

He debunks (or at least downplays) the usual writing advice claiming it’s ok as far as it goes, but does not go far enough. Things like good premise, tight writing, quick pace, showing not telling. He shows how authors at the top of their game dispense with these formulaic rules and yet hold our attention. Each chapter ends with Practical Tools and a summary of the lesson, both in bullet points and a helpful paragraph.

I loved the book and wholeheartedly recommend it. One of the best things about it is how specific it is, showing the way out of low tension traps and over-reliance on plot conflict to carry scenes. This was the most outstanding lesson of the book for someone like me. (I think I’ve read ’em all.) Attention those with manuscripts in progress: Chapter Eight!!

I must say I cringed through parts of the book. *gulp* am I guilty of doing THAT? But then he leaves you at the end with a passionate discourse on the fire in you, in me, in everyone.


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