Donald Maass

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17 04, 2017

A Writer’s Dilemma – Drama and Suffering

By |2017-04-16T18:25:03-05:00April 17th, 2017|Make Me Think Monday|1 Comment

We all dislike negative, unhappy things aka drama.

Who wants to suffer and be unhappy? I sure don’t.

But – reality is drama, though unwelcomed most of the time, is what life is all about.

Our puppy’s reaction to hearing thunder for the first time.

Happy drama is a very different thing.

I love the drama our new Old English Sheepdog added to our world. If you’ve ever had a puppy, you can relate. He changed our lives dramatically while adding so much laughter and love.

As a writer, I have such a difficult time being hard on my characters. I don’t want them to suffer or be unhappy. Unfortunately, that makes for a dull, uninteresting story. Drama is an integral part of real life so fictional characters must suffer.

After attending the BONI Intensive Seminars where Donald Maass stresses Tension (drama) on every page to engage readers fully, I finally understood the need to create more suffering for my fictional characters.

Readers expect drama and want to become emotionally involved with our characters. When drama and suffering are absent, readers fail to connect with our characters. They won’t read our books.

If you need a nudge to add drama to your writing (as I did), let me suggest:

1. Read The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass
2. Attend a Breakout Novel Intensive Seminar
3. Visit One Stop for Writers website where you’ll find loads of resources like The Emotion Thesaurus

And, just for fun here’s some video inspiration on how to add  drama to a dull scene:

6 06, 2016

Recharging the Writer’s Brain Well

By |2016-06-04T12:22:52-05:00June 6th, 2016|Make Me Think Monday|0 Comments

learningIt’s been said, “When you stop learning, you stop growing.”

Or, as Albert Einstein put it “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”

Many professions recognize and require ongoing learning.

As a teacher, I needed 40 hours of professional growth per year.

As an antique dealer, I constantly read price guides, watched Antiques Roadshow, and friended Kovel’s on Facebook to keep up-to-date on antiques and pricing.

As a writer, I attend a writing conferences or workshop every year. Some are on-line or podcasts; others in person.

Those in person conferences are the ones I enjoy the most because I’m not only learning I’m meeting my people. We writers are a breed unto ourselves and networking with those who understand is a treat.

Over the winter, health issues made writing difficult. I sorta lost my momentum. My zeal to write. (In case you’ve wondered, that’s why you’ve been missing new blog posts here.)

I truly needed interaction with my kind and some brain filling.

In May I attended a mini-con presented by the RWA chapter, Colorado Romance Writers. This well-organized conference delivered. And, delivered superbly.

The fellow writers were warm, friendly, and oh so understanding. We spoke the same language.

The daylong lecture from Donald Maass, President of Donald Maass Literary Agency in New York, challenged and charged my muse, as I had expected.

I’ve been attending Maass workshops since 2006. After decades in the publishing business,The Donald truly knows his stuff. His well-used books on craft line my bookcase line my bookcase —Writing the Breakout Novel (2001), Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (2004), The Fire in Fiction (2009) , The Breakout Novelist (2011) and Writing 21st Century Fiction (2012).

If you’re a writer looking to push your craft to the next level, you should check out opportunities at Free Expressions Seminars and Literary Services  and/or subscribe to the Writer Unboxed blog, where Mr. Maass is a monthly contributor.

That weekend conference  refilled my brain well and supercharged my muse. I’m back on course and busy pushing to have the final book in the Vietnam War Era trilogy released this year.

How do you refill your own brain well?

If you’re a writer, I highly recommend attending an in person writer’s conference or workshop.

10 09, 2012

3 Necessities to be a successful writer

By |2012-09-10T09:37:46-05:00September 10th, 2012|writer, writing|2 Comments

What does it take to be a writer?

Is all you need to be a writer pen and paper or a typewriter or an iPad or laptop/computer with a word processor? Maybe all it takes is the latest writing tool like this:

Or is there more involved besides having the proper writing tool?

Simple answer, YES.

A writer’s journey is a solo trip. A lonely trip and no two writers achieve success in the same way.

I think, to be successful, an aspiring writer must possess, at a minimum, these things:

  1. A PASSION
  2. A WILLINGNESS TO PRACTICE
  3. A DESIRE TO LEARN

On PASSION…

The most important trait a writer needs is the deep desire to write and a steadfast commitment to his passion.

“Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.” Hebbel quotes

Writers must write because, if we don’t, we are miserable. The desire flows with our blood.

On PRACTICE…

If you watched the Summer Olympics last month, you saw performances by athletes who had practiced and trained YEARS for the opportunity to compete in their chosen event.

A certain number of hours practice is frequently necessary to be considered proficient at so many things.

Think about airline pilots who must have a specific number of flying hours before they are qualified to solo. Teenage drivers get learner permits and must practice before taking a test to prove their proficiency and earn a driver’s license.

Writing is no different. Writing requires practice.

The exact amount of practice depends on your natural talent, how quick you learn the techniques of your craft and how much passion you have for what you’re doing.

Which brings up another question, how often should you write?

My simple answer: EVERY DAY.

But how much should you write? Does it matter?

According to James Thayer’s Author Magazine article “How Many Words a Day?” Jack London wrote between 1,000 and 1,500 words each day.

Stephen King writes 2,000 words a day.

Ray Bradbury, who authored over five hundred science fiction novels and short stories which someone calculated to be three and a half million words worth of stories, advises writers to “Write a thousand words a day and in three years you will be a writer.”

To succeed as writers, we must practice by writing something, anything every day.

On LEARNING  or STUDYING writing craft

Most people wouldn’t dream of trying to build an automobile without learning about auto mechanics. Unfortunately, too many people try to become writers without learning about the craft of writing.

An idea for a story strikes, and they start writing. They never consider story structure, POV, or any of the other skills embedded in every novel we read.

This, imo, is why so many aspiring writers fail so often.

Without learning basic skills, you won’t go far as an auto mechanic, no matter how many hours you put into practicing. Think about artists. They learn to mix paint, how to prepare a canvas and color theory at an art school. Aspiring auto mechanics go to technical schools.

Learning about basic craft skills requires time and study. To me, it’s the most important aspect of being a writer.

Sure, some writers succeed without study. With study, I believe success comes faster.

Even those born with great talent rarely go anywhere without equal measures of passion and practice. Mozart was a virtuoso of musical technique and artistry, but even he needed to learn his craft. He was full of passion for music, he practiced all the time, and he studied.

There are hundreds of great books on writing. I’m sure you have your favorites. On my website you’ll find a complete list of writer resources and some inspiring quotes. Below is a short list I recommend for every writer’s craft resource shelf:

  1.  Plot & Structure, by James Scott Bell
  2. Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass
  3. Break Into Fiction, by Mary Buckham and Dianna Love 
  4.  Story, by Robert McKee 
  5.  Scene and Structure, by Jack M. Bickham
  6. Getting Into Character, by Brandilyn Collins
  7. Writing for Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias
  8. The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley

Writing classes – on-line and at colleges and universities – also offer wonderful ways to develop writing skills. Too many classes, in fact, to list them in this post. I’ll do another blog with my recommendations soon.

Writing conferences offer yet another means to study writing craft with the added benefit of networking with like-minded people.

If you happen to live in or near Houston, Texas, there’s going to be a great writer’s conference next month—Northwest Houston RWA’s Lone Star Writer’s Conference featuring James Scott Bell.Yep—same one whose book is #1 on my recommended list.

The conference also offers a tremendous line-up of editors and agents. All for only $130.00. Check it out here.

Now you know what 3 things I believe are necessary to be a success writer so get out your iTyperwriter and GO, GO, GO.

YOUR TURN: What do you think it takes to be a successful writer?

16 07, 2012

What my high school reunion taught me about writing BACKSTORY

By |2012-07-16T15:44:32-05:00July 16th, 2012|Uncategorized|15 Comments

Sitting at a table at my high school reunion recently, this thought struck me: “This is how backstory should work.”

Huh, you say. Let me explain.

I’ve know most of the people at my high school reunion more than half my life. I didn’t have to ask mundane questions to get to know them. When I looked in their faces, I saw not the wrinkles but teenagers I remembered from our school days.

We were (are) a close knit group, attending English class or studying for Algebra or cheering our Austin High School Maroon football team. We laughed about our Red Jacket (the drill team) adventures, relived football losses, groaned over teachers and relived our glory days on the yearbook and newspaper staff as reminisced.

I knew their past.

But what dawned on me was that what I remembered from those good ole days is only a small portion of their story. As we shared over the three day reunion, I learned of their triumphs, their heartaches, their success since we’d last been together.

Did I learn everything at once? No. Piece by piece they shared stories. Backstory came to light that had shaped who they were today.

Like all my high school friends, I know my characters. After all, I am creating them.

And like my friends who told their stories over the time we were together, that’s how I must reveal my character’s background–slowly as it relates to the story and character development.

This is where new writers often err in their opening scenes, revealing anything and everything that’s happened up to the time of the inciting incident.

There are times when a bit of backstory is necessary for the reader to grasp what’s going on and why it’s important. But, editors and agents agree a newly submitted manuscript with backstory dump in the beginning scenes is the biggest kiss of death for the work.

Writers, whether new or seasoned, must tread carefully when considering how much backstory to include. We should trust the reader’s intelligence to “get” what’s going on without providing lengthy backstory.

Think about it. Is it really necessary for the reader to know Mary has been married three times, each relationship ending badly, to “understand” why she’s looking for a good relationship. Usually, that kind of backstory, while indeed important, should be doled out later in the story and bit by bit.

A general rule is keep backstory either absent from the opening or only include as much as is absolutely necessary to set the scene for the inciting incident.

To quote Donald Maass, “no backstory in the first fifty pages.” And then, only to do one or more of these things:

1. Raise the stakes
2. Reveal motivations
3. Express innermost fears
4. Reveal obstacles

Easier said than done for most writers, including me.

I think of backstory as “BS.” Literally. I ask myself does the reader really need to know this in order to relate to my character? The answer is usually no!

Another way to think of backstory is as carefully placed clues to the mystery of the character and why they are the way they are. Hints to keep the reader turning the page.

Just as I discovered my old friends’ stories gradually, we writers need to let readers find backstory clues throughout the book until they’re brought all together to explain how and why the character changed or clarify whatever the character did.

What do you think about backstory dumps in the opening pages? Do you close the book or keep on reading?