Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Writing Book Review - Writing the Breakout Novel & Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook

Yes, I'm reviewing two books together this week even though I'm running out of writing books.

Writing the Breakout Novel and its companion volume Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maas go together as well as they were intended to.

Maas is a big name literary agent, and he's studied books that "breakout" - that is novels that sell significantly better than other books in their genre - and believes he has come up with traits they all share.

I think he's probably on to something. I thought that even before I purchased the books, because agents want to sell books to publishers - so they need to know what sells. Having read them I still think so.

These are not your normal writing books. There's little here about how to write an outline or shooting adjectives. This is about things like making sure the characters are multidimensional and that there are things the reader will invest in at stake (among other things). And these are lessons that apply not just to thrillers, but to every genre - though they will manifest in other ways.

Of the two I find the workbook the more useful, because the introduction to each exercises covers what the exercise is designed to achieve anyway, while the book is less explicit on how to use the wealth of examples in it. Together you get more detail and examples - but if you can only buy one I'd say go for the Workbook.

Now it should be said that not all breakout fiction is a bestseller - if you write something in a weird niche genre it's not going to break any records if you follow his advice to the letter, except possibly for sales in said weird niche genre. Maas admits this.

I also think these two books gel perfectly with "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers" since they deal with different (though sometimes convergent) ways of improving your manuscript. "Self-Editing" teaches you to write stellar prose if you fully internalise its lessons. The Breakout books teach you to amp up your plot - whatever it maybe - and characters for best effect. There are plenty of authors whose work features in the examples in the Breakout books, who could do with learning the lessons from Self-Editing. Equally there are authors out there who write beautiful, expressive prose which lacks tension and could do with reading these two. A writer who fully internalised the points from both sources and use them correctly in their story would - I think - create something extra-special.

Please tell me if you find this useful and feel free to suggest any good writing books for me to buy, read and eventually review.

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