Tuesday, July 17, 2007

As promised, Donald Maass Notes

The first weekend in July I attended a writer's retreat where we had a one day workshop with literary agent and author, Donald Maass.

His book, Writing The Breakout Novel is becoming a craft favorite. Along with the book, Maass conducts week long and weekend seminars where students receive instruction followed by afternoons of working and rewriting.

Maass is an engaging, knowledgable, fun instructor. Very personable. I got a lot out of the day we had with him, even if toward the end my brain started to short circuit. Ha!

I didn't have a work-in-progress to bring to the day, but worked on ideas for book-next, and bravely compared his instruction to what I'd done with Sweet Caroline.

To be honest, I thought I'd be hyperventilating within the first five minutes of class, "Oh no! I didn't do that, or that, or that!"

But it was three o'clock in the afternoon before my first slight heart palpitation. Even, then, I realized it was a matter of preference. Not that Caroline is perfect-word to the wise: there are no perfect novels, I felt like I did some things well with her story.

Anyway, if you're a writer or reader, you'll enjoy what Mr. Maass says makes a breakout novel.

Begin very eclectic notes:

The characters are the reader's way into the story and what brings them back to us as authors.

More specific and detailed we can be the more powerful we become.

How can protag show heroic qualities within protag first five pages?

Reader asks: "Do we care about this person?"

"Ordinary people in extraordinary circumstance, but readers what to care greatly, care enough to read the book. What creates the bond between reader and protagonist."

"Heroic qualities. We tend to think of historic greatness or extreme survival under worse conditions."

Have one line to catch readers attention.

"Stories are powerful when they are tough. When the challenges are extreme."



"These are the moments the characters become larger than his or her own life. Break out of box, out of character, do the unexpected. Moments we remember."

"A "wink" can be the most unexpected thing a character can do."

What is the main conflict? Goal?

Raise stakes, keep tension rising, keep readers more deeply involved.


What is antagonist defining quality?

Antagonist most wants? Yearning, dream, goal. Where would he like to go? What to achieve or experience. Avoid?

"If I am the antagonist, how would I describe what I want?"

Antag has more to do. Need see the antagonist moving through the story. They appear, go away then reappear. What are they doing all that time? He/she is working on something.

Write out what antagonist is doing. 4-5 pages of outline.


Part Two - Plot Considerations

Main problem facing protag over the course of novel.

Figure out how to make the worst happen and come back from it.


Back story

Use this strategically in the story. Something we don't know. Something that explains the protag. Wait for it. We only hint at it.

End eclectic notes

The intellectual learns by learning. They love instruction and process information well. Instinctively, they seem to understand how to apply what they've heard.

I'm a doer. I learn by doing. I love information, I love instruction, but I've learned way more about writing by doing it than hearing how to do it. If I buy something with instructions, the first thing I do is study the "gaget" to figure it out, only referring to the instructions if I'm stuck. Weird, but it works for me.

Between what my editors have taught me, and this Maass experience, I have ammo to improve and deepen my craft.

Recently, a couple of friends graduated with MBAs. Then, they bought a business. In one week, they learned more about running a business than a semester of grad school.

Learning is just a tool to help us "do" life. Instruction is the map to get us where we want to be, but unless we "get in the car and drive" all the mapping and studying is useless.

So, do what works for you. Do-be-do-be-do.

Tomorrow, a revelation on prayer!


Kristen Painter said...

Holy cow, that's a lot of notes. Good stuff tho. Must go back and reread. I have DM's book, but I don't think I've ever gotten that much out of it.

Leanna said...

WOW! It's going to take me days to read all of your notes and absorb them all. No wonder your brain short circuited by 3. I've read DM's book and his workbook. Need to read them again. Good stuff! I'm totally jealous you were at a conference with him!


Georgiana D said...

There's a ton of meat in there! Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing your notes with us, it's a huge inspiration.

Kristy Dykes said...

Great info, Rachel. Thanks for sharing it. Maas makes you dig deep into your characters. I've been re-reading and studying his book the last few weeks.

Lynette Sowell said...

wow!! thanks! :) I need to get studying. I have the workbook. I realize I can be too nice to my characters. Sigh. :)

Peg Phifer said...

My Goodness, Rachel! Did you take those notes by hand? What great stuff! I have the Maass book and workbook. Maybe I need to study it again. Today was to be my "writing day" - but perhaps I'll make it my STUDY writing day. :)

See you in Dallas!


Julie Carobini said...

Thanks SO much for doing this, Rachel! Timing's perfect for me, and I appreciate your efforts.

relevantgirl said...

thanks so much for taking the time to get this out on web paper. I appreciate it. Thanks for your heart for other writers!

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Good night nurse, I'm on overload just reading your notes! I've been reading Donald Maass's book, now I'm questioning if I'd ever want to do the workshop. But then again, do I want to get better? Crud! Things just got significantly more difficult.

Princess of Patience said...

Thanks for posting your notes! That is a lot of great information. Looking forward to meeting you in Dallas!


Christy LaShea Smith said...

Thanks for posting your notes. They're inspiring!

Yes, learn by doing. Write!


Jenny B. Jones said...

Thanks sooo much for sharing. Great notes.

Ane Mulligan said...

How did your hand hold out to write all those notes? Whew! My fingers cramped just reading them. LOL But thanks, Rachel for sharing. I've got his book, too, and will use these ntoes as I study. Your'e the best!

Rachel Hauck said...

Just so you know, I didn't hand write the notes. I typed them.

Also, I deleted some stuff that was redundant or my own WIP examples.

This is a guideline and advise, y'all, so use as it fits you.


Kelly Klepfer said...

Thanks for sharing!

Cara Putman said...

Thanks for sharing these, Rachel. Sounds like a fabulous class.

Angela Breidenbach said...

Thanks Rachel. I think the one I liked the most was to live inside my antagonist more. Make him do more in the story.
Thank you,

Crystal Warren Miller said...

Wow, thanks for your generosity, Rachel. I've read his book, so it's nice to read this, too. I printed out your notes for my own reading and then I can go back over the book. It must have been great for those with a WIP with them.