Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas

Essential. Maas describes the elements of a “breakout” novel, showing how to make any plot or story more compelling. He pulls examples from recent (well, recent to the year 2000, which is when the book was written) novels to illustrate each of his points, and even has exercises in each chapter you can do for your own novel.

I’m already mixing in his approach as I prepare for NaNoWriMo. It’s given me another set of questions to ask about my characters, plot, and setting, to help me push them to a higher level.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • People have been talking about the death of the mid-list since the 1970s. Don’t let it phase you.
  • Escalating stakes doesn’t mean making the one danger greater. It means adding more, different, dangers for the protagonist.
  • Characters need to be larger-than-life. Find the extraordinary in ordinary people, and bring that to life.

 

From Sprint to Marathon

NaNoWriMo’s over. Final word count: 30,836.

So, I didn’t make it to 50,000 this year. But I don’t want to dwell on that.

Here’s what I did do:

  • I started a new novel, which is still not easy for me.
  • I proved I could still write 4,000 words in a single day, like I did last Saturday.
  • I learned that starting with a short story set in the world does help when it comes time to write the novel. I’ve written more each day, and more easily, for this novel than the previous one.

But the novel’s not done, and neither am I. To keep me on track, I’m setting a new goal: to reach 50,000 words by the end of the year.

More modest than NaNoWriMo, true, but I think it’ll keep me focused, keep me pushing forward on the book. I’d like to have this first draft done in three months instead of twelve, so I can spend more time revising it.

Wish me luck.

Wanted: More Time

Novel’s at 19,170 words.

Limped along with 500 words a day through the week, then managed to crank out 2,000 words yesterday. Hoping to do the same today, and tomorrow, and Sunday.

I need to be writing about 5,000 words a day, to make the NaNoWriMo deadline. That’s…probably not going to happen.

I have to try, though. Even if I don’t get to 50,000 words this month, I’m still going to finish the novel. So every word still counts.

Behind

Novel’s at 12,104 words.

I’m seriously behind. About 18,000 words behind, to be more specific.

Trying to tell myself that every word written is a victory, and it’s enough to just have the novel started. That works. Sometimes.

And sometimes I just want to take the day off work, so I can write.

Because I’m also looking at the short story I’m supposed to revise, the previous novel I should be editing, and the one before that that I should be sending round to more agents.

I put all that on hold so I “focus” on NaNoWriMo. But if I’m already slipping behind on this month’s writing, maybe I shouldn’t have?

How far behind am I going to get on those projects, while I struggle through this one?

Getting Back to Work

Haven’t been able to write since Tuesday. I’ve been too hurt, too confused, too angry to spin up my imagination and write about what’s happening in that other world.

It doesn’t help that it’s supposed to be a light book, full of whimsy and humor.

I don’t feel very funny anymore.

But I’ve got to get back to it.

Maybe the book will turn out a little darker than I’d intended, now. Or maybe I’ll find a way to recapture the fun spirit I started with, and use the book to remind myself of the good things that are still out there: the wife that loves me, the friends that support me, the peers that understand what’s happening, and forgive.

But most of all I need to finish it because this book has suddenly become more explicitly political than I intended.

My main character is a lesbian, which when I started out was just the way the character came into my head. Now it feels like writing her is an act of defiance, a way of pushing back against Trump and his ilk.

No one else may ever read this book, and it may never be good enough to be published. But damned if I won’t finish it, and make it as good as I can make it.

Because the importance of minority representation in fiction has just hit home to me, and I want to do my part.

There’s More, Thank Goodness

Went back to finish the short story, as prep for converting it into a novel for NaNoWriMo…and found I couldn’t finish it, because there was too much more to tell.

Which is a relief, actually, because it means I don’t have to throw the short story away and start over, or worry about having enough depth in the setting and the characters for a novel. The short story is the intro to the novel, the opening scene(s), setting the stage for everything that follows.

This has never happened to me before. But then, it’s only my third novel, so what do I know?

Now I’m working up the outline of the book, discovering plots and subplots I didn’t know were waiting inside the short story.

It’s a process that’s both fun and terrifying, like doing improv sketches in front of a video camera instead of an audience: you have to hope the jokes land, because you won’t know until long after you’re done performing.

Three Fronts

Made good progress on three different projects this week.

First, the finished fantasy novel. I’ve pushed my first query letter out to my first choice of agent!

I don’t know how hitting Send on an email could make me so tense, but it felt like I was walking on stage in front of a crowd of thousands. But now it’s done, and I can use the synopsis from that letter to build other queries for other agents.

Second, I started workshopping a short story for the first time.

A fellow writer recommended LitReactor to me last year; this week I finally worked up the courage to join and post something for review. It’s a story I wrote on the plane home from New York last month. I’ve already gotten some good feedback on it, and will probably post a second story there soon.

Which brings to me to the third project: NaNoWriMo prep. I finished the short story (!) that I wanted to use to test out the concept. I think there’s definitely more to tell, there, though I’m not sure if I have enough for a full novel. Maybe just a series of stories.

Guess there’s only one way to find out, and that’s to dive in and see how far I can get.

NaNoWriMo is Coming

I really want to do NaNoWriMo again this year. Last time, it helped me finally dig in and start a novel, pushing me to get 50,000 words in before the end of November, and then finish it over the following months.

That same novel is now edited and ready for querying. I’ve spent this week drafting a query letter, one I’ll be editing this next week before starting to send out.

At the same time, I need to prep for NaNoWriMo, so I’ve also begun writing a new short story. It’s from an idea that’s been kicking around in my head for a few years. I think there may be a novel’s worth of story in there, but I don’t want to dive in to one without some prep work.

So I’m writing a short story set in that world first, to see if it has legs. It’s something I did (without knowing it) for my first novel, and skipped — because I didn’t know it was something you could deliberately do — for the second.

Since I found the first novel much easier to write, and I’ve heard other writers mention using the short story as a way to explore a novel idea, I’m going to try it out.

If it works, I’ll have something solid to work with as I build my outline for NaNoWriMo. If it doesn’t, then at least I’ve only invested a week or two (instead of months).