Monday, May 18, 2009

The Fire In Fiction

I've been reading Donald Maass' new book, The Fire In Fiction, subtitled Passion, Purpose, And Technique To Make Your Novel Great. My original intent was to do a book review, but I'm only a third of the way into it and already my copy has so much red highlighting that it looks like someone spilled strawberry jam on the pages. In future posts, I plan to share some lessons I've learned from it. But I won't tell you everything. For that, you'll have to buy the book. And that's okay. This is definitely a "must read" for any serious novelist.

Maass had my attention as soon as I dipped into the introduction. Like him, I've often seen a sixth novel in a series that disappoints, a highly touted novel by a well-known author that just doesn't live up to expectations. Like Maass, and undoubtedly many readers, I've wondered if the author was rushed to meet a deadline, or perhaps edited poorly, or--perish the thought--just not trying hard enough. He offers his own take on this phenomenon by differentiating between two types of writers: status seekers and storytellers.

Status seekers, according to Maass, want to be published. They want to improve their writing to that level, and often that's as much as they want. Storytellers, on the other hand, want to write the best possible work. They're willing to work at it until it's all it can be. In Maass' words, "Status seekers rush me fifty pages and an outline a few months after the workshop (where I taught). Storytellers won't show me their novels again for a year or more, probably after several new drafts."

Ouch! I've had to fight the urge to send off a manuscript as soon as I've finished it, maybe with one revision. If I'm to put my best work out there to be read, I need to polish and hone it until it shines. The introduction goes on for several pages, but Maass had me from page one. And by page 50 he continues to hold my attention.

If you're planning to attend the annual meeting of the American Christian Fiction Writers, be sure to register as soon as possible, so you can sign up for the all-day workshop Donald Maass is holding the day before the conference opens. At $99, it's a bargain. I've signed up, and I'm looking forward to it.

And if you do come to ACFW, consider signing up for the course I'll be teaching: Medical Details In Your Fiction: Get Them In, Get Them Right. I'll look for you.


Jim Rubart said...

Just got Maass' book in the mail yesterday. Was going to wait till the weekend to dive in. No more. Gotta start now, thanks for the spur, Richard.

Timothy Fish said...

He could be correct, but at the same time it places some of the best authors in the category of status seekers. Perhaps they are, but it could be they’re just tired. Publishers don’t put the same quality demands on a well known author that they do on lesser known authors, so it’s easy to let the quality slip in as a way to get that much needed rest. There is also the problem that the most important event in a character’s life always happens in the first book. An author writes a book that takes a man from being a drunkard to being a preacher. The publisher likes it and wants two more books based around the same character. We can’t make as big of a change in the character’s life as we did in the first book. The result is that the next book is weaker.

Lynette Sowell said...

I bought The Fire In Fiction tonight, probably at the same time you posted your blog note. I'm looking forward to reading this book as I hold my yellow highlighter. Sometimes an author feels they must write several books a year, and maybe this is where the "rush" comes in. Or, some authors get comfortable with where they're at, and all they see is a deadline and lose sight of craft.

Katie said...

This is a book I really want to read! I'm glad you are going to share some of the insights you've learned from it.

I am going to the ACFW conference and the early bird special. There are SO many interesting workshops being offered, it was almost impossible to choose! My roommates and I tried to divy them up so we're hitting the majority of them and can swap notes. Your class sounds very helpful! One of my roomies is going. I know I'll be eager to get her notes!

Elaine said...

I'd love to go to the ACFW conference, but the cost of the conference as well as transportation there and back make it prohibitive for some of us.

Richard Mabry said...

Your comment touched me. I don't mean to take for granted the ability of anyone to attend this or any conference. The cost is high, and I'm aware of the sacrifices lots of folks make to attend. For those unable to do so, I'd strongly recommend considering ordering some of the course CD's--perhaps even going in with others and sharing them.
For those of you considering buying Maass' book, be warned of one thing. He uses examples with some rough language. I tend to skip around them, much as I used to eat around the outside crust on a pie and confine myself to the good stuff in the middle.
Thanks to everyone for dropping by and especially to those who've left a comment.

Elaine said...

Thanks for responding to my comment. I will consider getting some of the CDs. I'd also like to get Maass' book, but am a bit put off by your comment that his language is rough. Maybe I'll check some of the pages on I'm disappointed that authors use such crude language in some of their illustrations.

Deb said...

Richard, I'll be at your panel if in fact I'm conscious at that hour.

And @ Timothy: publishers aren't one vast homogenous group of moneygrubbers, you know. They DO vary in what they will accept, even from a writer who's worked with them before. Doubt it? Just ask around.

The CBA does seem terribly interested in publishing worn-out concepts from authors whose first books were better than subsequent ones, though. Anybody want another bonnet book?