My favorite craft book of all time is Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel. This book has a workbook companion of the same name. There are exercises throughout, including “Adding Heroic Qualities,” “Opening Extra Character Dimensions,” “Adjusting the Volume” and more. A gem-tip in chapter 5 (Heightening Larger-Than-Life Qualities) tells us:
As you comb through your manuscript looking for ways to heighten anything your protagonist says, does, or thinks, look for ways to take things up in temperature, but also down. Play against the prevailing mood of a scene.
There are valuable reminders in the workbook, like this on p. 59:
Passages of exposition can be among the most gripping in your novel. Indeed they better be, since nothing is “happening.” When nothing overtly is going on, make sure that a great deal is at work beneath the surface. Otherwise your novel will have dead spots that your readers will skip.
I cannot say enough about how this book kickstarted my drive after it stalled out last spring. A weapon of mass instruction? I guess I’d say it was for me. Hopefully Mr. Maass won’t mind me sharing one more blip from his book with you. This is such a beautiful piece of advice, I can’t resist:
Things can always get worse. Yes, they can. Much worse. In fact, there is no end to the misery you can heap on your poor protagonist. Is he in physical danger? Break his arm. Is she uncertain what to do? Take away her wisest friend. Is it raining? Make it flood. Is there a faint ray of hope? Snuff it out. Alternately, you can raise the stakes by making what might be lost more valuable. Does he stand to lose his wife’s love? Have him find out how much more he needs it than he knew. Does she have a noble principle on her side? Show her how that principle works for the good in ways she had never imagined. Will solving the problem make people happy? Show that alternative outcomes will make folks miserable. Oh yes, things can always get worse.
The book and workbook are filled with valuable ideas that can guide a stuck writer through the unboxing process–and help renew excitement for your story. Personally, I think if you want to invest in only one of them, you’ll get more bang for your Benjamins by purchasing the workbook.
How about you? Is there a weapon of mass instruction in your arsenal of craft books? Which is your all-time favorite?