I’ve just finished reading Donald Maass’s book, The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface, and I absolutely loved it! The writing is so clear and thoughtful.
Donald Maass first came onto my radar as a brilliant writer for writers at a Scattered Authors’ retreat several years ago, when ace children’s and YA author, Linda Newbery, recommended his Writing the Breakout Novel. The premise there is that you can give a good novel bestselling potential by focusing on universal themes, such as ‘the fight for justice’. Those universal themes and archetypes will be there in your writing inevitably on the unconscious level, but Maass encourages authors to see how it feels to put them front and centre.
In The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface, he looks at plotting, not in terms of action, as a sequence of events, but starting from the deepest psychological needs of the main characters – the inner journey.
Again, this isn’t something writers don’t already know about – we all think in terms of both action and psychological plot – the difference here is that he starts from the inner journey and focuses on that entirely. It’s a question of slightly changing the angle you’re looking at things from.
The book is packed with practical exercises you can apply to your work-in-progress, and those have really helped me define the meaning and importance of what’s going on for my protagonist.
Coincidentally, I noticed The Writing Retreat had a workshop on Finding your Story Through Theme last weekend, and that gave me a chance to simplify and clarify the ideas I was thinking about from Maas’s book. Their retreats are another thing I’d highly recommend!
Thinking in terms of theme helps you decide what action needs to be in the story and what doesn’t contribute enough emotionally, so if your plot is getting in a muddle, it might be helpful to focus more closely on why everything that happens in your story matters.
That will help you get a killer opening and deliver a really satisfying ending too.
I love reading books about writing – and writing about writing. My latest manuscript is a quick read – under 10,000 words in short sections – brief thoughts and insights – and I could really do with a few more beta readers, if possible. Please email me if you’d be up for that, firstname.lastname@example.org Many thanks indeed!