Don Maass heads a literary agency and is, in the world of fiction, a rock star among writers, for his books on Breakout Novels and Breakout Novellists. We talk about writing better stories, better characters, how that can be used for change, for reporting non-fiction, for energizing op-eds.
He's also written a series of books on the Breakout novel that have made him a rock star among fiction writers.
After encountering and being wowed by his first book in 2002, I attended one of his workshops earlier this year and realized he'd be a great guest. He lived up to my expectations.
rough notes from the interview:
Fiction's influence is disproportionately large, compared to video games, tv, etc.
Novels have a responsibility to " have an impact on people, even successful fiction. They are the most successful when the author has a point to make, something driving the author to tell a particular story.
Like Water for Elephants-- took us deep, deep inside a wo rld of travelling circuses, but it's really a story about human struggle, identity, about animals...
compelling conflicted characters,
constant tension, keeping the reader reading everything on the page.
The thing that makes a book a page turner is an element called microtension-- keeps us wondering...
Create a tension, a narrative, an apprehension that causes us to go forward to find out what...
Raise the stakes for character-- make the problem matter more.
Bottom up. Fiction is powerful when it comes from a place deep inside...
Novels are built out of scenes-- discrete units of time. Most scenes have settings... Many beginning novelists describe the scene-- old writing advice--describe with five senses. But flat description doesn't do much. Readers report the stuff the SKIM first is description.
Another way-- how does character FEEL about the scene, the room, how the feelings change through the scene-- work through the psychology of place.
finding the conflicting or contrasting emotion. It's the cognitive dissonance that you create in the reader.
Working with contrasting conflicting emotions creates the tension in reader.
Portray the high and also the moment of panic...
Three levels of story:
Plot: main problem, conflict, need, yearning or goal that drives character from beginning to end of the story. Central problem or conflict.
2=Goal or need that drives a character through a particular moment or scene. What a character wants to do or avoid.
3- microtension-- friction beteween people, apprehension inside that makes every moment a mini-story.
a certain kind of dis-ease, apprehension or uncertainty. Can be the way words are put together.
it's the interiority of the characters.
Two words that don't go together-- like hysterical peace. That creates cognitive dissonance.
A Reliable Wife Robert Ulrich
Politicians are often the go-to villains in thrillers. 50% of the time the villain is a senator.
Bill Clinton as politician when he was governor.
What will make you successul is your stories, nothing else. Make them strong and you can do anything.
What is a strong story?
storytelling is evolving. We have to look at how people are receiving stories--
What works very wellnow is close third person. There is more first person than ever before.
Pace of story is becoming faster. Scenes shorter, events move forward more quickly, less time with each character. Leisurely paced, Thomas Hardy way, is not....
High impact, high emotion while doing so quickly and efficiently.
Our subconscious minds understand and leap forward so much faster than we can express.
Heroes literary agents, storytellers,
British novelist, Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time
What is hero?
Someone who lifts us out of ourselves and shows us a new way of being. Someone who inspires us.
Editing. Some people say that writing is revision and I would agree with that.
Editing is not the same as revision. Revision is pushing your story to new depths and new heights.
Rob Kall is the administrator for StoryCon