Posted by: cmegge00 | March 11, 2013

Write a powerful novel

Write a powerful novel

Last night I picked up an old (2001) Writers’ Digest and found an interesting article about plots by Donald Maass of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. He says that if you want to write a “breakout novel,” one that is powerful, and moves many people, it’s very simple. He says, “Raise the stakes.” Hah! I almost quit reading.

What I figure he means, after reading the whole article, has consumed my writing thoughts today. He says that you must examine your first thoughts about the protagonist in your story. S/he must have a goal that you communicate to your readers in the first chapter, and motivation that drives them to reach it. What happens if they don’t get what they want? Ask yourself then, “So what?” If the readers don’t much care, then the stakes are not high enough. What the character is going to lose is not important enough. Your protagonist must have deep personal stakes in what happens. To get the reader involved the stakes must be important and involve deep emotion, and they must be communicated to the reader. To raise the personal stakes for them, ask yourself as author, “How can this matter more?”

To write a “breakout novel” you must also have high public stakes. That means that in your specific setting other people’s worth is involved. What happens if the moral rules of a community, large or small, are violated? The outcome must matter to the reader. Every setting has a history and the details of this history provide the fodder for how the other characters of the novel act, whether a family  farm, a business empire, high society, or the CIA.

To raise the general stakes in your plot, ask yourself, “How could things get worse?” Keep the danger immediate. Make your characters suffer. If you raise the stakes to things that are important to you, that you have powerful emotions about, and if you make the reader feel those emotions through your characters, the reader (and the agent or editor) will love it, and be compelled to read to the end.

In my words, the things you care deeply about can be communicated to the world through your characters.

This is my extremely condensed version of an article. If you are interested in more about writing a “breakout” novel, Mr. Maass has written an entire book on the subject. If you go to his agency website, where he tells what they are looking for now, he has a list of suggestions to make your novel better. The suggestions are specific and give you wonderful ideas.

Donald Maass says that writing the breakout novel demands a commitment to human worth. Whew. I’ll keep trying.

Carol

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