Monday, April 4, 2011

Why you MUST read the Fire in Fiction

But first, the second round of Round of Words in 80 days (ROW80) is getting started and I'm joining (it runs from April 4 to June 23).

I accomplished my writing goals in January and February by coercing people into keeping me accountable (e.g. giveaways!) In March, I slacked off (though I did get a lot of planning/plot tightening done). So ROW80 is perfect timing to get motivated again. The link above gives the deets, but the gist is you set your own goals and then check in with your fellow ROW80 goal-setters.

My Jan/Feb goal was to get to 75k on my WIP. I've since realized, my WIP being YA historical fantasy (thank you more-knowledgeable-commenters and sharers-of-awesome links) that because of the world-building it's okay to go higher on the word count so I'm aiming for 90k.

So my goal for the 80 days:

1. Write another 15k or whatever I need to get the dang thing FINISHED! (by end of April)

2. AND AND AND AND!!! - the first revision (by June 23th, the 80th day)

You know what really motivates me? Hearing other writer's goals. I mean, I'm not competitive (except during word wars or when I have a bet going with my hubs). I just really love to read goals 'cause they get me going with my own.

So, what goals do you have? As a writer? Or maybe as a reader? Or life in general (so yeah, how is that new year's rez going for you after the first quarter?) (insert evil laugh)

And now. If you are a writer - why you MUST read the Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass.

My favorite writing book is Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, but now Birdy will have to share the #1 spot. Bird by Bird and the Fire in Fiction are both about writing but cover completely different things. Bird is about the writing life, getting your first draft down, how to keep your butt in the chair, why you should aways keep paper and pen in your back pocket.

Fire is about specifics. You've got your first draft done. Even your second or third draft. But it's still not getting interest. The Fire in Fiction skips the basics, such as hook and point of view. It goes much deeper. It teaches you how to keep your readers reading after the hook.

Want to make your protagonist more memorable? Even harder, want to make your secondary characters more memorable? "Special-ness comes not from a character but from their impact on the protagonist. What are the details that measure their impact? How specific can you make them?"

The books that cover the basics teach you that your book is built on scenes and all scenes worth their weight need conflict and must move the plot forward. This book digs deeper and talks about inner and outer turning points in each scene. Maass uses the analogy about how action scenes in movies are planned and shot in detailed frames. He shows you how to rewind and fast-forward through the scenes and how to use oblique angles to heighten effect (and we are talking writing here, not just camera work).

Oh and the tornado effect - that's a powerful device. Sorry you'll have to read the book to find out what it is. Or bribe me with chocolate. I like Dove Bars. Or Reeses. Or, well, any chocolate will work.

The book provides excellent exercises, broken down step-by-step, for how to accomplish things like:

- Strip down dialogue to heighten conflict.
- Make setting become its own character.
- How to link details and emotions.
- Develop a character's voice. Experiment with narrative voice.
- The extra steps you can take (you MUST take) to make a real antagonist.
- Three different techniques to help your reader suspend disbelief (if you are writing fantasy, SF or thrillers).
- There's even a chapter on developing humor and satire

What you won't find: plot structure - the excellent three act structure or hero's journey structure. Save the Cat by Blake Snyder is next on my list for that. (I also recommend the Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler for this).

Here's an example of a step in an exercise that I just picked at random:
"Create three hints in this scene that your protagonist or point-of-view character will get what he wants. Build three reasons to believe that he won't get what he wants."

The last two chapters are the very best of all. What's the secret to unstoppable page turning? It's NOT action. What? No really. It's micro-tension. Don't know what that is exactly? Maybe you can guess what it is, and are curious about how to implement it? This is a MUST READ.

And the last chapter, simply titled "The fire in fiction". All the chapters give you fuel for a good hot fire, but this last chapter is the fire itself. This one blew me away. I'd love to tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.

It's that good.

Now tell me your goal(s)! (or why you'd like to kill ME after this way-too-long post. Will I never learn good blogging etiquette?)


  1. So glad you decided to join in. It's well worth it and has helped me stay on track. My goal is to finish Red Thief, start typing it up and edit while doing so. The Fire in Fiction sounds great. I have one of his books already. Just need to read it. :) I have a habit of writing ultra long posts too.

  2. I think The Fire in Fiction is a great resource. It's a book I definitely return to over and over, and I like the way you can just read a chapter here and there.

  3. Wow - thanks for the info about Fire in Fiction - I love the title and it looks like the content lives up to its feisty words!!! Yay!!

    You have fantastic goals there for yourself. GOOD LUCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And YAY FOR YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Take care

  4. I love Fire in Fiction! I read it now and again to jump start my enthusiasm when revising. I'm going to have to get Anne Lamont's Bird by Bird :)

  5. Best of luck with your writing goals. I am currently on a revision of a YA Fantasy, and am working at increasing my word length, too.

    And after your tantalizing review of Fire in Fiction, I will have to take a look for it. Thanks for sharing!

  6. It doesn't *feel* like a long post, and that's what matters! Then again you know I like to get my opinion out there, and go off on tangents, so maybe I'm biased. My goal which doesn't have an official end date but should fall around the beginning of June (oh, maybe I should make it officially May 30th since I'm going on holiday for a week) is to finish the first draft of my YA contemporary, approx. 80k words if all goes well. I contemplated joining ROW80 after hearing from Ghenet about it, but so far I'm keeping myself on track, knock on wood.

    Added The Fire in Fiction to my TBR list! Keep us (me) updated on your progress, miss.
    - Sophia.

  7. Perfect post--I've been looking for another writing craft book to read, and you've sold me. Thanks, and best of luck getting that last 15K finished up!

  8. A good friend of mine recommended this, too, so I guess now I'll actually have to read it. I love his How to Write the Breakout Novel workbook, but I've heard the Fire in Fiction is even better.


  9. I've been dying to read this book. You just gave me the motivation to pick it up. Thanks!

  10. I haven't read "The Fire in Fiction" but I do own it! I bought it at the same time as Maass' "Writing the Breakout Novel" and I recently finished that. So good! I'm really looking forward to reading "Fire" now!

  11. Fire and Bird are both on my list! So many good books...BUT I am going to join the challenge! See? You've inspired me. And it lines up well with this first draft I want to knock out before June 15th! Thanks!!

  12. I have heard so man good things about this book, but I still haven't read it. I'm kind of afraid it will tell me I know nothing about what I'm doing.


  13. This book sounds awesome! Thanks for the review!

  14. Donald Maass is amazing. Have you reading his Breakout Novel book? Every chapter of that was like a revelation for my book.

  15. I'm doing ROW80 too! Good luck with your goals! :)

    Oh, and thanks for adding another book to my to-buy list. :D

  16. I'm not doing ROW80, but something similar. Like you, my goal is to finish my historical fantasy this month. I'd love to hear more about yours!

    And I agree about Fire in Fiction. I got to take a 6-hour class from Donald Maass last spring, and the exercises he had us do stretched me way beyond what I thought my capabilities were. Great review!


  17. I added that book to my goodreads list.
    Good luck reaching your word count this month.

  18. I'm glad you decided to join ROW80! Good luck with your goals. I'll be rooting for you! :)

    I love BIRD BY BIRD and I own FIRE IN FICTION. I saw Donald Maass speak at the Writer's Digest conference in January and I'm really excited to read this book. I'm reading his other book WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL now.

  19. I've read other Donald Mass books but not that one--I'll have to check it out.

    All the best to you with your goals!

  20. Wow. You've completely convinced me. Stopping by Barnes and Noble after work tonight to pick it up. Thanks for the reccomenation! I will comment back when I've finished, probably telling you how obsessed I am now :)

  21. I think I'm at the place to start with your other #1, Anne Lamont. I've had Maass book on my TBR read, and hear about him often. Maybe that's a hint I am suppose to read him! Thanks for the recommendation.

  22. Thank you! I'm going to order this new writing book by Maass. I have learned a great deal from him in the past.

  23. My writing goals - hmmm. I would say keep working on my WiP and bravely (and enthusiasticly) query one of my dream agents.

    Thanks for the book suggestion - it sounds like a great one!

  24. I'm still reading Maass' The Breakout Novel, which is excellent. I'll have to get Fire In Fiction next, thanks for the review!

  25. OMG you made me want that book *dangles chocolate*. FINE I'll just have to put it on my wishlist. Sigh. Good thing I like you so much, Margo! :D My goal? To write a new book that represents a significant leap in my abilities as a writer, and well, obviously to get published. Not so clear on dates and word counts, but that's not usually where my issues lie. But we're all different, right? NOW GET BACK TO WORK MY FRIEND!

  26. Can I join you for the 15K!? I think that would be enough to complete my WiP. I thought our last goal would do it, but I too realized it needed a little more! Wouldn't it be great if we could both complete our books by the end of the month? 3,750 wds/week would do the trick. Are you up from more #writegoal?

  27. congrats on achieving your writing goals and making more incredible ones! Your review of the book was enough to make me order it on Amazon. I've been going to Bird by Bird so much, and while it is great, I do need a reliable resource that probes a bit deeper. Thanks so much for introducing me to this :)

  28. Fire in Fiction sounds like a must read! Thanks for the recommendation.

  29. Fire in Fiction is a great book. I remember the chapters on tension were terrific. My goal is to be ready to query by next fall or in time for writeoncon in August. I should be good. But I'm giving myself extra time so I don't query too early.

  30. I can say NOTHING about long blog posts because I've been known to write a few myself.

    Bird by Bird isn't my favorite. My two favorite are Hooked by Les Edgerton (about hooking a reader, inciting incident, and story-worthy problem) and On Writing by Stephen King.

    You have given such good info about this book, so I'm going to add it to my list. I should read another how-to book. It's been a while. Thanks!

  31. I love his workbook. It's making huge improvements in my wip. In fact I'm so happy with the improvements, I've quit querying my other novel so that I can put it through the same workout. :D

    My goal is the same as Laura Pauling's. I plan to be finished my wip with my CP in two months (even if they are getting a little impatient for the next chunk), so that I can send it out to the next round of beta readers. I'm in no rush to query, so I'm happy to wait until the fall.

  32. Thanks for sharing about the Fire in Fiction. I've heard about it but I thought why buy another writing book but it sounds like a good thing. I'll have to put it on my list to buy. Thanks again for talking about it.

  33. Oh forgot to give you the link to the library I use for online books that you asked for. I had to call them and work it out. They have a lot of young adult books available. You can check it out to see if it works for you.

  34. I've read his Writing the Breakout Novel, but not Fire in Fiction. Definitely adding to my TBR list. Thanks for sharing. :)



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