Top positive review
I Love This Book!
Reviewed in the United States on April 13, 2015
Donald Maass’ book Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling is my favorite how-to book for writers.
Maass take both a common sense and analytical approach to evaluating 21st century fiction. He points out that novels have also evolved to meet the needs and wants of readers, and successful writers understand this.
“High-impact comes from a combination of two factors: great stories and beautiful writing . . . The publishing industry has a convenient term for these wonder books: literary/commercial fiction.” (2-3)
Maass argues that successful 21st century novels are high-impact novels. They appeal to the masses and cross over from genre or literary fiction to the bestseller lists.
What they have in common is that like genre fiction, they tell great stories, and like literary fiction, they are beautifully written and explore character.
He also says, “[High-impact] panders to no one. It speaks to everyone.” Sounds like good news for writers!
“Commercial and literary successes are the result of hard work, instinct, study, and the honing of craft. They are not mutually exclusive . . . strong storytelling and beautiful writing are the twin elements that make a big lasting impression on readers.” (208-09)
His chapters give writers the tools for hard work, study, and honing your craft.
Here’s a breakdown of the chapters:
Chapters 1 & 2: Current trends and rising above a category.
Chapters 3 & 4: The writer’s inner and outer journeys.
Chapter 5: Standout Character; this is an excellent chapter.
Chapter 6: Three levels of story; his breakdown of scene writing is impressive.
Chapter 7: Beautiful Prose; this chapter highlights high-impact novels by showing the relationship between great plots and beautiful writing.
Chapter 8: The writer and the process; he comes full circle and turns to earlier discussions to bring his points together.
Chapter 9: Element of Awe; he inspires the reader “to make good art” as Neil Gaiman would say.
Each chapter ends with “21st Century Tools,” sets of questions related to the chapter and designed to guide a writer through the creative process. As I read, I worked my way through most of the questions, which is the primary reason this book took so long to finish.
If you’re the kind of person who is inclined to dismiss the questions and be satisfied with reading the chapter, I would advise against that strategy.
I found the questions invaluable. As I explored the questions, I felt as if I were in a workshop. I’m in the middle of revising a novel and took the time to apply the questions to my project. The questions and suggestions were helpful as I revised scenes.
Because of my background in teaching, I realize the work and refining that goes into creating questions, which are helpful and practical. Maass’ questions are not busy work. If the results I’ve had working through these questions is any indication, I’d say they are a valuable part of the book.