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Photobucket [1]Chances are that sometime recently you saw fireworks. Pasteboard tubes soared into the dark sky, erupting in sizzling blooms of strontium, lithium, calcium, sodium, barium, copper, cesium, potassium, rubidium, iron, aluminum. Spectators gasped, surprised every time. Trails of golden goddess hair lingered on your retinas revealing to you, for a few sweet seconds, the face of the divine.

Chances are that sometime recently you also read a manuscript that launched few fireworks at all. Instead you encountered black words lined up in endless rows, an army of safety attacking on tiptoe and retreating without a shot. Colors seemed washed out. Characters felt bloodless. Did anyone in this novel, you wondered, have anything to eat?

Why is it that when fireworks slash open the night we cheer, yet as we tenderly arrange our words across a white screen we fear drawing blood? Maybe that’d be messy? Perhaps we don’t like calling attention to ourselves?

Whatever our worries, too many manuscripts tell their stories with timidity. What’s needed instead are explosive bursts of divinity. How can we light those fuses? Here’s a box of matches to get you going…

Find your protagonist in any scene. What does she really want to say? What’s the most blunt, rude, raw, unrestrained way in which she can say it? Damn the consequences, make her use those words. Let the wreckage fall.

What’s an event that passes with little notice? Invent a dire consequence. Make it one that no one sees coming. Who or what can be wrecked? What is the worst outcome of that disaster? Get those in.

Choose a character with little to do. Create for her a gift to give. Make it a gift that will transform the recipient. Give that gift at the time of greatest need.

Select an entrance or exit. Dress it up, make it dance onto (or off) the stage. Work with its effect on your POV character. What will he never forget? How will she never again be the same?

Zero in on a scene involving violence or sex. What’s one action that we don’t expect? What deep wound is opened, what unexpected joy arises? In what way does this moment define your POV character? What does she discover about herself that’s a liberation? What is the irrevocable truth now known?

Turn to any page in our manuscript. Pick a sentence that’s just quietly doing its job. Inject it full of speed. Make it hallucinate. Include a word from poetry. Find in it something sublime, if not divine. Make it explode.

The night is long. The hours of darkness are dull. We need more fireworks. Set them off in your WIP. Do it deliberately and we’ll be surprised every time.

Photo courtesy Flickr’s aussiegall [2]


About Donald Maass [3]

Donald Maass is president of the Donald Maass Literary Agency [4]. He has written several highly acclaimed craft books for novelists including The Breakout Novelist [5], The Fire in Fiction [6], Writing the Breakout Novel [7]and The Career Novelist [8].