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Writing the Breakout Novel (Breakout Novel)

4.07  ·  Rating Details ·  2,871 Ratings  ·  298 Reviews
Take your fiction to the next level! Maybe you're a first-time novelist looking for practical guidance. Maybe you've already been published, but your latest effort is stuck in mid-list limbo. Whatever the case may be, author and literary agent Donald Maass can show you how to take your prose to the next level and write a breakout novel - one that rises out of obscurity and ...more
ebook, 256 pages
Published August 1st 2002 by Writers Digest Books (first published May 10th 2001)
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Apr 25, 2011 Patrick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
WARNING: The plot formulas exposed and lauded in this book can be toxic. May lead to dizziness, fits of cynicism, and paroxysms. Do not take this product if you harbor unrealistic expectations about what sort of books the American book-buying public actually consumes. Do not read if you are offended by the notion that trite, adolescent writing and conventional morality may be the most sellable commodity in today's literary marketplace. Do not take if you are allergic to any of the following:

Sean Little
Mar 25, 2008 Sean Little rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: NO ONE
These books are all the same: Trying to sell dreams between covers. It doesn't work. Here's what does work: Writing...writing a lot...writing every day two or three hours...having an original idea and working it harder than you've ever worked something before...believing in yourself and your idea...and accepting the fact that somtimes, no matter how much you want it, you won't get it.

There's no magic recipe for writing a great novel. Just do it. Make your characters interesting. Make the plot ti
Brent Weeks
Jun 30, 2011 Brent Weeks rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing-advice
Don is my agent, so let's get that out of the way. However, I heard him speak, and I read this book before I ever signed on with him. One of his questions made me rewrite a book I thought was finished. I'd spent more than a year of my life on that book, and his questions made me spend another nine months at it. That book, The Way of Shadows, hit the New York Times bestseller list. (Low, but #29 is something a lot of writers would kill to hit.) And that's the genius of this book--not that it'll m ...more
Troy Blackford
In the year 2000, Maass says:

"Middle-eastern terrorists are not likely to attack us. This is an implausible plot for a thriller." (Look me in the eye and repeat that at the end of 2001, Donald.)

"A global financial crisis wouldn't affect people enough to be the topic of a thriller. So what if Wall Street has a bad day, or even a VERY bad day." (I'll check back with you when the unemployment and foreclosure rate is skyrocketing in 2008, Mr. Maass.)

"Conspiracies make a bad topic for a thriller - so
Meena Fairoak
May 24, 2012 Meena Fairoak rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
As an aspiring novelist, a friend gave me this book thinking I would like it.

I didn't.

First the pros: On one hand, the book gives a few basic pointers about storytelling and the publishing industry. The book offers a few interesting extract from novels. And maybe . . . maybe, you might like this book if you were a complete newbie.

But . . .

On the other hand, the author claims to have found the "magic formula" to write a hit book. And this is where everything goes wrong. The author of this book is
Aug 14, 2013 Kristyn rated it really liked it
There are obvious reasons why adding this title is embarrassing.

But, the book is not what you think.

Maass is a writer and agent with several decades of experience, and he uses that to explain why some books work and some don't. He analyzes both commercial and literary fiction. He's basically interested in any book that reaches a wide audience and why, regardless of its categorization.

This book worked for me because it coalesced a year's worth of reading, writing, taking apart books, and workshop
Kari J.
Mar 30, 2010 Kari J. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I’m still a few pages from being done with Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel and WOW.

For YEARS, I have been looking for what I consider the “perfect” writing book. And every time I go to a bookstore, I find yet another book on writing (or some aspect) I find to be utterly indispensible. I must have them.

I’m not going to talk about how many writing books I have. Let’s just say… A few.

However, there are only a few books I would recommend to people. A l
Amy  Eller Lewis
Sep 04, 2011 Amy Eller Lewis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read based on Marissa Meyer's review, but was skeptical, as I am with most Books About Writing. But this is, without a doubt, one of the only writing books that gives actual *information* on writing a novel that is not obvious ("Novels are made of Scenes!"), condescending ("My advice to new writers? Don't do it.") or just so you-are-a-special-and-unique-snowflake that it turns me off. Donald Maass, a Publishing Veteran, does not think you are a special and unique snowflake. But your book needs ...more
May 15, 2013 Celina rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
I read Gardner's On Becoming A Novelist at the same time I was reading this book. No contest: Gardner's book was authoritative and inspiring. The advice given in Writing The Breakout Novel was contrived, hollow, and in some instances simply cringe-worthy in comparison. If you're an aspiring writer looking for solid, truthful instruction on how to craft a novel, stick with Gardner (or Stephen King's On Writing, or James V. Smith...there are better options). If you're curious as to what a literary ...more
Jane Stewart
2 stars for generalities, not enough specifics. 4 stars for some good ideas that are probably found in most writing books.

“the past perfect tense and its evil facilitator, the word “had” will always rob a scene of its vital immediacy. Even though we need to learn about events that have already happened, (the author) keeps the action always in the present. It has more impact that way.” (p.143)

Maass encourages combining roles, “as in the lifelong friend who is also a doctor, o
Maas doesn't really say anything that isn't reiterated in countless other books on the subject of writing. He does use a lot of examples of published literature to illustrate his points and he seems to be more versed on the subject of thrillers and crime novels than any other genre of fiction.

The book itself is broken down into easy categories covered by separate chapters - Premise, Pace, Setting, Character, Subplots, Viewpoints, Themes, etc. I found some chapters to be more thought provoking t
Adrian Astur Alvarez
God, this book was irritating. Every time I read a "this is how you write" book by a non-writer I swear I'll never do it again. Then I end up doing it again because someone will swear "oh this one is different." Nope. Not different. Exactly the same, actually. 260 pages of selling (in this case he's selling the phrase "breakout novel") and about 1 or 2 useful ideas. Nothing new, mind you, just useful to be reminded of them. I suppose actually reading a good novel could have reminded me of those ...more
Dec 30, 2013 Jane rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: shelf-of-shame
Where I got the book: purchased at a conference.

There's a lot of solid advice in Maass's book, so as books aimed at encouraging/guiding writers go, it's not all that bad. BUT hoo boy, it's looking a bit dated. When you start by telling your audience that e-readers will never take off and that the way to success is still going to look pretty much the same in ten years' time, a new edition is definitely in order.

And most of his examples seem to date from the 80s and 90s. He REALLY likes Anne Perry
Oct 16, 2010 Jacqui rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
I have a library of books on how to write, each supposed to rocket me to the next level, morph me from mid-list writer to best-seller. Each of them provided some tidbit that is now integral to my writing style, something I remember and use every time I sit down at my computer and unleash my muse.

Well if I'm honest, some of them were a waste of money. Those, I tossed so they don't remind me how I wasted my hard-earned money.

But Writing the Breakout Novel is one I keep as a reference. Donald Maas'
Maurice Carlos Ruffin
Despite it's legendarily cheesy title, it's one of the best how-to books on writing out there, respected by both commercial and literary fiction writers. I first read Breakout when I returned to writing as an adult , just before I met the author in person at the BEA conference in NY in 2005.

In rereading this book for the first time in the better part of a decade, I realized two things: 1) Stephen King's On Writing, Jane Smiley's Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, and Robert McKee's Story (s
J. Aleksandr Wootton
I took a break from fiction to read this a second time - my first reading was almost ten years ago, and I was writing a different novel then. I felt it was time for a refresher, considering where I am in my current project (20k words into the first draft and still outlining).

Maas' title is corny. It's so corny that I might never have ordered it in the first place if I hadn't had a gift certificate for Writers' Digest books. It may sound like a hack's how-to book; but I assure you, it's anything
Aug 04, 2012 Jo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, writing
Everyone who's anyone in writing circles raves about this book, so I started reading it with a little trepidation. (Yes, I know that doesn't make much sense.) I really wanted to like it, but didn't want to set my expectations so high that I was disappointed.

I didn't really need to worry. The book was fantastic. It's a book that is clearly not designed for a beginning writer so much as someone who wants to improve their writing in a current or subsequent novel. It covers a broad range of topics i
Bethany Michaels
I know a lot of authors who LOVE this book.

I thought there were some good points worth thinking through, especially for the plotting phase of writing a novel, but there was nothing groundbreaking here. Maass suggests that a breakout novel is simply the sum of its parts and if you just follow the advice between these covers, you'll be cashing that six-figure advance check in no time. Any author who has been out there a while knows there are too many variables in the market for anyone to guarante
Apr 06, 2013 Mandy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a great book. Yes, you can learn a lot by constant writing and that is important. It is also important though to continue learning through other means too. I thought this book had a lot of positive advice and points that can help you with writing a good novel. It is good to get information from people who have dealt with published authors. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is writing even if you don't follow everything written in its pages. I believe it gives you a lot to ...more
Oct 29, 2011 Jyv rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, writing
I didn't enjoy this book much. It was offputting more than anything. When reading some of his advice I thought of numerous books which used these methods and found them all so cliched. I imagine a lot of books that have won the Booker prize etc, don't follow them at all. Also, I found the examples of writing he used rather tedious. They were all, I think, examples from Amercian authors and there are a lot of American novels I just don't enjoy. I think I'll try and find a 'how to' book by a Briti ...more
Apr 28, 2015 Solange rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found the organization and content of this book workable and usable. It was a very fast read, well broken out. So if I was having a problem with plot I could just go to that chapter, no funny names for things. I really recommend thins and the book "Story" which is a much denser reading for aspiring authors.
Apr 14, 2009 Rebekah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing-books
This is the type of book I was looking for years ago when I started writing: no formulas or perks, just honest to goodness information on how to make your writing stand out. From plot to characterization to layering, this book covers it all with checklists at the end of each chapter to make sure you caught everything, or to refer to as you write your next novel.
Anna Staniszewski
This is one of the best craft books I've read. I loved the specific examples he used to show how to take your novel to the next level. I think I'm going to have to reread it to make sure it's all sunk in.
P.D. Martin
Jul 22, 2012 P.D. Martin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic book for all aspiring authors AND those of us already published, too :)

Was reading it while writing a first draft and I made changes to the plot and character based on some of Maass's tips!

Very helpful.
Claire Wilson
Mar 27, 2016 Claire Wilson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great reference for any Novelist - highly recommend
Aimee Minalga
Dec 12, 2016 Aimee Minalga rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 30, 2016 Julie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved this book. Loved hearing Donald Maass teaching the techniques in a workshop setting even more. Great advice on deepening/complicating characters and their situations for maximum impact.
Tony Walker
I got bored at 47% and gave up.
Londonmabel Mabel
I have mixed feelings about this one. The classic advice we give to students writing papers is "say what you're going to say, say it, summarize what you just said." Maass isn't very good at the first part. He's not good at introducing his chapters--giving a clear idea of what the chapter's about, and what he's about to cover. So I'd start taking notes about one thing, and suddenly find we were on a different topic.

Here's what one amazon reviewer wrote re. Maass' fourth book: "I found myself lost
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  • Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish
  • Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go
  • The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile
  • Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time
  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print
  • Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints
  • Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore
  • Scene and Structure (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors
  • Techniques of the Selling Writer
  • First Draft in 30 Days: A Novel Writer's System for Building a Complete and Cohesive Manuscript
  • Story Engineering: Character Development, Story Concept, Scene Construction
  • Characters and Viewpoint (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction
  • Dialogue: Techniques and exercises for crafting effective dialogue
  • The Complete Handbook Of Novel Writing: Everything You Need To Know About Creating & Selling Your Work (Writers Digest)
  • Bullies, Bastards & Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction
  • How to Grow a Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them

Other Books in the Series

Breakout Novel (2 books)
  • Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook: Hands-On Help for Making Your Novel Stand Out and Succeed

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“His characters may be cardboard, but each has a clear, uncomplicated purpose. Every moment of the story contributes to building conflict.” 1 likes
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