Therese here. It might be argued that every good literary agent knows a thing or two about story. But having authored several must-have books on the craft of writing–including The Fire in Fiction, The Breakout Novelist, and the book that busted many a writer out of the box, Writing the Breakout Novel–we think it’s an indelible truth that literary agent and longtime WU contributor Donald Maass is an authority figure on the topic.
He has a new book out this month from Writer’s Digest Books: Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling.
What makes this book stand apart from the rest? We’re glad he’s with us today to answer that and more.
Tell us a little about your new book, Writing 21st Century Fiction.
Don: It’s about the biggest long term trend (for writers) in our century: the merging of commercial and literary fiction. Now, that’s not to say that one hundred years from now crime writers won’t write mysteries or literary novelists won’t explore the human condition. Novels become powerful, though, when they simultaneously tell great stories and tell them beautifully.
Why this book, why now? Did industry changes affect the way you approached this book?
Don: The idea sprang directly from an observation about the New York Times Best Sellers List. In recent years the hardcover list has been populated much as you would expect, by thrillers and brand name authors. What’s changed is that those novels make the list for only a few weeks.
By contrast, the trade paperback list is dominated by fiction categorized as literary but which in certain cases has run on the list for one year, two years or more. Excuse me? Literary fiction selling at blockbuster levels while thrillers pop up briefly then disappear?
That interested me. I began to analyze why this so-called literary fiction has commercial legs, and also to find out why genre novelists who bring literary art to their stories sell noticeably better than many others in their categories.
The result is Writing 21st Century Fiction. It’s about the death of genre, or more accurately the liberation from genre boxes—including the “literary” box. It’s about creating fiction that’s powerful, free and uniquely your own. It’s about how we change the world.
How is Writing 21st Century Fiction different from your former craft books for writers (all of which are on my keeper shelf)? What distinguishes it from other craft books on the market today?
Don: There’s a great chasm dividing the nation of fiction writers. On one side are the literary writers, on the other are commercial storytellers. Generally speaking they don’t meet, talk, share the same values or even work the same way.
Each side has something the other needs, but how do you talk with literary writers about that dirty word “plot”, and how do you open up storytellers to beautiful writing when they sneer as they try to get to the bank?
You don’t. Writing 21st Century Fiction is different. For commercial storytellers I break down the construction of inner journeys, open a map to emotional landscapes, show how to write personally and more. For literary writers I show how to push premise, turn inner states into meaningful external events, lay out the hierarchy of externalizations and more.
For all fiction writers I help identify both the writer you are, the writer you’re not, and how to compensate. I go beyond the flash of beautiful imagery (pretty words) to show that beautiful writing is a great deal more. It’s a set of techniques that all novelists can use no matter what their values, intent, way of working or story style.
The book includes 380 “21st Century Tools” to help get you there.
Can you share an excerpt with us? [Read more…]