Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Passion in Prose - Maass

After attending Donald Maass' workshop at the ACFW conference two weeks ago, I've made it a point to really soak up everything I find written by him. October's issue of Writer's Digest has two articles by him (and one by James Scott Bell)...and I thought I'd summarize one of them here.

Everyone wants to know what is it in a novel that sweeps us away. If we could go into a store, buy it in a bottle and sprinkle it over out fingers and keyboard before beginning a novel endeavor, we would. So what is it that transports us?

Maass indicates the following all have a part in making a story matter: intriguing premise, protagonists we immediately care about, three-dimensional antagonists, gripping scenes, a richly developed world, a singular voice, high believability, and micro-tension on every page.

However, Maass doesn't think either of those things is what would be in that elusive bottle on the shelf. He thinks its passion, but not in the overused, buzzword sense of "write what you're passionate about." Maas says this "passion" is actually code for dedication.

So, to quote Maass, "How do you that necessary passion on the page--and in a way that pierces through to the hearts of crusty, seen-it-all agents, editors and (finally) readers? And how do you summon that passion at every writing session, no matter how many months and drafts you've already devoted to the project?"

1) Realize that every moment of a story that you choose to set down matters. Every scene should enact a change and have hidden in it why that change is important. You have to pin down that importance.

2) Nothing in a story is meaningful until its meaning is clear to a character. Don't ask the reader to intuit by themselves the significance behind something, but don't have "clunky moralizing." Maass mentioned at the workshop that too much internal POV from the character gets old, fast. He suggests measuring the impact of what is happening in the story by those experiencing it: the characters. But how to do this?

  • Don't include what a particular plot point means in the grand scheme of things, but what it means to the POV character instead. Maas says, "Illuminate for that person not what has changed, but how she has changed."
  • Find the overall story's meaning and make it come through. Not just by sticking moral at the end, but by infusing the entire manuscript with meaning. For this to happen, he says you must discover every day why this story matters to you. Ask yourself at every writing session why you care about what is happening in the scene at hand. Once you transpose your own powerful feelings, opinions, joys and sadness to your characters, then you instill in your pages the wisdom living inside your novel--and your self.
Maass says that to do the above daily will make your "passion" a practical tool.

Hope this spoke to you as much as it did to me! Don't forget, the contest to win Mary DeMuth's new book, A Slow Burn, is still going on until Friday night! Sign up here!

Q4U: How are you keeping the passion in your pages? Doing any of the above?

Wordle: signature


FictionGroupie said...

You have a gift over at my blog, stop by when you get a chance to pick it up. Award

Eileen Astels Watson said...

What an awesome summary, Jeannie!

Maass is really an amazing teacher!

Tamika: said...

Great post Jeanie!

I love Maas's use of passion as actually a code of dedication- I will remind myself of that daily.

I can't wait to read his new book, "Fire in Fiction," it's sitting in my stack TBR. Soon!

Blessings to you...

Ava Walker Jenkins said...

Thanks for the words of wisdom you are passing on to us. I am learning a lot of good information posted from Maas that will hopefully cut down on rewrites.

Susanne Dietze said...

As I missed the conference, I am so grateful for you passing this great info along, Jeannie! Thanks! It's given me lots to think about.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

thanks for the award, roni!

i appreciate everyone stopping by...glad the article was helpful!

Tina Lynn said...

Wow...usually I would say something like that sounds easy, now to find a way to do it...but that doesn't even sound easy:D

Girl Meets Gun said...

This is so great, because I think so many writers get caught up in what something means in a book in general rather than to the character. It can make the scene or plot lose its place in the heart of the reader, or even the character, and it is good to remember these points. :)

Great blog. I'm a new reader but I'll be back!!!