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.
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?