Monday, May 30, 2011

Donald Maass -- The Dean of Powerful Writing

I am a member of Backspace ( It is a forum for writers who want to not only create meaningful fiction and non-fiction but who want to sell it. Backspace  holds bi-annual conferences in May and November. I attended my third last week and will, for the next several weeks, be trying to deal with the overwhelming amount of information dished out there.

Donald Maass presented a day-long workshop on the third day of the conference. Based on his incredibly successful textbook, "Writing the Breakout Novel," the workshop covered such important topics as adding dimensions to your protagonist, exceeding their personal boundaries to create larger than life moments and going through the same process with your antagonist. To say this workshop was huge is like saying the Brooklyn Bridge is a way to cross the East River.

Of course it is possible to read Maass's textbook or the workbook based on it or his latest work, THE FIRE IN FICTION. But hearing him speak on these topics, enjoying his wit and asking him pertinent questions while an issue is fresh in your mind adds so much more to the learning arc. And that doesn't even touch on the breaks where I was able to share my awe with fellow writers--not feel like I am the only one in the world who has miles to go.

 I certainly would never pretend to be qualified to advise writers on ways to improve their craft. However, I would hope some of the insights I took away from this conference might prove interesting to other fledgling writers. So, from time to time, I will post some of these insights here in no particular order.

Today I will finish with what I learned from Donald Maass about creating sympathetic characters. As we all have been told, readers do not spend much time with characters they do not like. In fact, more often than not, readers flat out abandon stories with despicable protagonists. This isn't to say all characters have to be like Mary Poppins. In fact, the most memorable protagonist of all--Scarlet O'Hara, was far from perfect. But she was both admirable and human. That, Maass says, is critical. Like all of us she had a bad side but she also had a good side. She was determined, strong and one of the first feminists. She was shrewd. She was everything we often admire in a man...but she was a beautiful, raven-haired female. In fact it is the tension created between the good and the bad in a character that makes her most appealing. That makes for a page-turner. Long after a novel is finished and returned to its shelf, the reader will remember the conflicts of a well-crafted character and that is what every writer wants. Right?

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