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A review of Donald Maass’s Writing 21st Century Fiction

by Frank on September 8th, 2014

At a recent International Thriller Writers conference I was lucky enough to squeeze myself into a workshop/lecture conducted by Donald Maass, founder of the prestigious Donald Maass Literary Agency, who is a fiction writer himself and one of the most sought after writing teachers in the country. He’s someone who has read thousands of great, bad and indifferent works of fiction and has a lot to say. It was an extraordinary learning experience. I quickly found out why his name evokes awe in certain writing circles. Maass’s teaching style involves the posing of questions only someone who loves storytelling and knows the art and craft of writing inside out could ask and that force you to dig deeper in search of ways to make your prose leap to life. He also comes across as a modest guy who really enjoys his work. I am happy to say that his latest book on the craft of writing fiction, Writing 21st Century Fiction, captures the man and his message extremely well. Hands down it’s one of the best fiction craft tutorials I’ve read. A raw beginner might find it overwhelming, but for any writer who’s slogged through the creation of novels, published or unpublished, this is a gem of wisdom and inspiration from an industry insider and gifted communicator. He begins by pulling down the barrier between literary and genre fiction, pointing out that “high impact” fiction should be the touchstone — writing that is personal, meaningful and tension-filled. Maass takes us through the usual subjects of a craft manual–plotting, characters, conflict generation–with each chapter enlightened by cogent and entertaining examples and capped off by a series of questions that generate exercises which, trust me, can be immediately applied to your stories in progress. I’m currently working on two novels, one in final revision and the other early in a first draft. Both stories are now stronger thanks to Maass’s enthusiasm, brilliant insights and his thought-provoking questions.

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