Friday, June 18, 2010

In my last blog, I wrote about the valuable experience of attending a writer's conference. My experience with Backspace was exceptional, and even as a published author, I learned and re-learned so many writiting principles. One of the highlights of the conference was a mini-workshop by the master teacher of fiction writing, Donald Maass.

Maass talked about the opening of a novel, how it must be exceptionally crafted, maximizing the writer's skills. He started out by asking how many of us were writing about "average people caught in extraordinary circumstances." Quite a few hands went up, including my own. He explained that was one of the three types of protagonists. (The other two types are the heroic character and the dark character. I'll talk about Maass' insights for those characters in the following posts.)

Maass started the lecture by asking us to think of one person in our lives we admired. We were asked to write the name down in our notes. (One thing Maass insists upon: if you're going to learn the techniques of being an excellent writer, you have to write. No thinking of the answer and "keeping it in your head"!)

After all the pens and pencils had stopped scratching, Maass asked us to choose one characteristic of that person that we admired. The person I chose for the exercise was my mother, a vital, interested, and vibrant woman who continues to live each day to the fullest. And the characteristic I most admire about her is her compassion.

Next, Maass asked us to write down two incidents or actions that illustrate this characteristic. I thought about my mother's compassion, her special empathy for children, and I realized (My gasp of insight was audible!) that my male protagonist had the same strength. I jotted down two of the thousands of times I'd seen my mother display her empathy. (An added benefit to the workshop: wonderful memories of my mother bubbled to the surface!)

Then, Maass asked us to show our chosen characteristic for our main character within the first five pages of our manuscript. Maass explained that the connection between reader and main character is the most important connection of your work. A reader won't survive "four minutes, let alone four hundred pages with a miserable excuse for a human being or even a plain old average Joe."

Even though I've written my current beginning countless times, I went back and did it again.
Maass' ideas are from his book Fire in Fiction. I felt so privileged to be able to advance my craft through an in-person workshop by a master of fiction.


Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Rebbie,

Thanks for sharing this information from your workshop with us. It's very helpful--and something all of us who aspire to write great fiction must keep in mind.

Anonymous said...

You are welcome, Jacqueline! Donald Maass is such a great teacher!

Mary Ricksen said...

Great advise, thank you so much for sharing with us. I really appreciate it.
Even if I learned the tiniest thing, I learned!!!
I so enjoyed your post Rebbie!

Anonymous said...

Hi Rebbie, I've read so many times about the great and powerful Donald Maass - but I've never met him! How lucky you are! His workshop sounds great, and I agree with what you have written totally. It's the main reason I dropped 2 of the last 5 books I've started - I couldn't empathize with the characters at all. Nice post.

Anonymous said...

You are so very welcome, Mary. Maass is such a gifted teacher, but imho, his real talent is his ability to analyze. He can read fiction of any genre, examine it and then break it down so just about everyone can identify with what he's saying.
Glad you enjoyed!

Anonymous said...

Drue, you're so right! I have long since passed the point where I feel like I have to finish a book just because I started it. If it doesn't hold me, if I can't empathize with the characters, I'm outta there! So many books, so little time!