Wednesday, October 21, 2009
By Debby Giusti
When Donald Maass talks about writing, I listen. In September, I attended his workshop at the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference and came away with fresh ideas of how to turn a so-so story into a memorable read. Here are a few tips Maass shared that day.
“Consistent characters become dull over 400 pages,” Maass said. “So mix things up.” Show your protagonist’s less attractive side or take him places he doesn’t want to go.
Determine what the heroine wants, then have her do the exact opposite. Eventually, she’ll recognize her mistake, but that momentary glitch helps her come alive in the reader's mind.
Inner conflict makes a character memorable. Pull him in two different directions and make both choices difficult. What would your character never do or never ask? Have him do that very thing.
“Enemies tell us the truth about ourselves,” says Maass. “If you need more story, empower the antagonist.” Look at the story through his point of view. What steps does he need to take to achieve his own goal? Don’t allow him to lurk. Make him face off against the hero. Add an emotional punch by letting the protagonist realize the antagonist may be right.
To improve a scene, cut the fat. Trim the introduction and set-up. Do away with exposition and pare down the dialogue to the essentials. Delete interior monolog and incidental action. Bottom line, take out everything that doesn’t move the scene forward.
Include death, self-sacrifice, the giving of cherished gifts, betrayal, farewells or moral choices into your story to deliver a high emotional impact.
External turning points need internal turning points as well. How does the character change in each scene? Show him just before something happens as well as a few minutes later. What does he want at the beginning of the scene? How does that differ from what he wants at the end of the scene?
Putting on his agent hat, Maass said that most of the problems writers weave into the stories he reads are too easily solved. What causes him to reject a submission? Usually it’s when he finds no immediate reason to care about the characters and a lack of tension within the first two to five pages.
To learn more about Donald Maass’ writing techniques, check out his bestsellers: Writing the Breakout Novel, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook and Fire in Fiction.
The photo (left) shows Darlene Buchholz (l-r), Donald Maass, Debby and Missy Tippens at the Romance Writers of America Conference.
Wishing you abundant blessings,
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