At some point I think I’ve owned just about every book on writing. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating (I am a writer, after all) but writing books are an addiction of mine. I love to see how other authors go about working on their projects, what insights they might have, and there is also a feeling of camaraderie when I read a book on writing. It’s as if I’m having a conversation with someone else who analyzes and explores the writing process and has found ways to write through specific difficulties.
One of my favorite books on writing is, however, from the point of view of mega-agent Donald Maass.
I can never find my copy of Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. It’s always somewhere else other than on my bookshelf, because this is indeed a working writer’s workbook that is constantly in use. Originally the accompanying book to Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas, the workbook is a learning experience in itself.
Broken into three sections with a total of 34 topics, this is the kind of book you use in bits and pieces. Although when I first got the workbook, I admit to sitting down with it and a supply of tape flags and going through, page by page. About halfway to the end I realized I was flagging just about every worksheet. I decided to use the book as it was meant: a hands-on guide to keep by my side while working on my novel. The main sections—Character Development, Plot Development, and General Story Techniques are full of specific chapters and worksheets to cover just about every circumstance you need to build a strong story.
Not sure how to go about creating inner conflict for your character? Chapter three gives you reasons why you need it, why your readers want it, how to do it in a believable and well thought out way, examples, and finally a worksheet to use for your own work in progress. How do you create larger-than life qualities for your protagonist without pushing him or her into stereotype? There are two chapters and several worksheets for that task. Raising public stakes? Making complications active? Building plot layers? All there.
The layout of the workbook allows you to incorporate the exercise sheets into your own writing process, no matter what order or way you go about developing your characters and story. The worksheets are divided into steps, so you can also take the pieces that work for your process and use them.
With broad-stroke subjects covered like Weaving Plot Layers Together and Developing Bridging Conflict and detail such as Enhancing First and Last Lines, Maass has exercises for just about everything! There is even a worksheet for developing your brainstorming and creative skills. Something for every writer at just about every level and at any place in a manuscript.
This book gets a 5 star rating for great advice from a front-line agent, plus useable worksheets that cover an impressive range of writing topics. And bonus: you will never have to dust it. The book won’t sit on your shelf long enough.