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Saturday Seven: Writing Lessons

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I love, Love, LOVE the “Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook” by Donald Maass. I love it so much, if I only had one writing book in my library, it would be this one. It’s challenging and interesting and fun and makes you think and helps you improve your craft. I could go on and on…actually, I’m going to. Because this week, I’m highlighting my seven favorite “lessons” in the “Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook” by Donald Maass.
Have I mentioned how much I love this book? Here are a few samples of the challenges he provides (there are dozens):
1. Creating Larger than Life Qualities.
* What is the one thing that your protagonist would never, ever say?
* What is the one thing that your protagonist would never, ever do?
* What is the one thing that your protagonist would never, ever think?
* Find places in your story in which your protagonist must say, do and think those very things. What are the circumstances? What are the consequences?
2. Adjusting the Volume.
* At random in the middle of your manuscript, pick anything at all that your protagonist thinks, says or does. Heighten it. Make it bigger, funnier, more shocking, more vulgar, more out of bounds, more over the top, more violent, more insightful, more wildly romantic, more active, more anything.
* Take that same action, thought or line of dialogue and make it smaller. Tone it down, understate it, make it quieter, more internal, more personal, more ironic, more offhand, less impassioned, barely noticeable.
3. Adding Tension to every page
* Turn to any page in your manuscript at random. Put your finger on any line at random.
* Find a way to add tension at this moment. If there is already tension, skip to the next line and heighten the tension there.
4. Enhancing first and last lines.
* What is the intrigue factor in your opening line? What question does it post, or what puzzle does it present>
* If you are not able to answer the question in the first step, try shortening your first line. If that doesn’t work, audition your second line for the lead spot. Or combine elements from your first paragraph into one short, super-charged sentence. Whatever you do, choose or construct a different first line.
* Work one your last line until it has wit, a touch of poetry, or a sense of dawning peace. Try it out on others.
5. Alternate Endings
* With respect to the story as a whole, what does your protagonist want?
* If your protagonist cannot get that, what would she take second?
* If he can get nothing else, what would he settle for?
* Work out alternate endings for the novel based on each of the above answers. How would each ending go?
6. Brainstorming
* Pick a time and a place. Pick a protagonist. Pick a problem. Start brainstorming a story.
* Every time you write down an idea, reverse it. Go the opposite way. See where it takes you.
7. Brewing Tension
* Find a scene tat involves your hero taking a shower or bath, drinking tea or coffee, smoking a cigarette or reviewing prior action. Look especially in the first fifty pages.
* Cut the scene.
* If you can’t cut it, add tension.
I love that he challenges you to look beyond what you’re doing. In my book, One Love for Liv I did the exercise #2 Adjusting the Volume on one scene I wasn’t particularly pleased with. I went to town on making it silly, over the top, nearly unbelievable… and I loved it. If I hadn’t challenged myself to use one of his lessons, the book wouldn’t have been nearly as strong.
What’s your favorite writing book?

This Post Has 8 Comments

    1. Peggy, I use this book all the time. I’m honestly not as big a fan of the actual book he wrote by the same title, but I adore the workbook.

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