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Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling

4.4 of 5 stars 4.40  ·  rating details  ·  303 ratings  ·  78 reviews
Capture the minds, hearts, and imaginations of 21st century readers!Whether you're a commercial storyteller or a literary novelist, whether your goal is to write a best-selling novel or captivate readers with a satisfying, beautifully written story, the key to success is the same: high-impact fiction. "Writing 21st Century Fiction" will help you write a novel for today's r ...more
Paperback, 217 pages
Published October 16th 2012 by Writer's Digest Books (first published September 1st 2012)
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On Writing by Stephen KingThe Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.Bird by Bird by Anne LamottWriting Down the Bones by Natalie GoldbergEats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss
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How to Format Your Book by Dorothy May MercerSelf-Publishing In the Eye of the Storm by Karl WigginsWriting 21st Century Fiction by Donald MaassThe Writer's Idea Book by Jack HeffronWriter & Roleplayer Primers by Angeli Pidcock
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3rd out of 23 books — 26 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,026)
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Jonathan Peto
Those suck-ups who rate this book a 5 are obviously hoping to get on Donald Maass’ good side. (He heads a big literary agency in New York.) The book is a 4, and mainly because of the questions at the end of each chapter. The text contains some wisdom, but I don’t honestly believe it will benefit writers who have not already read about the topics in more detail elsewhere. If you have, you’ll enjoy the review and the fresh examples - lots of contemporary ones. Rereading about topics such as charac ...more
Cindy Dees
I would rank this book up with STORY by Robert McKee as one of the most intelligent books ever written about writing fiction. And frankly, this book is more accessible than McKee's textbook.

I've always loved Maass's writing how-to materials, and this was no disappointment. However, I have published 45 novels and taught novel writing for years, and this book challenged even me to absorb the full message within it. It is so dense-packed with ideas and expressed so deeply that I literally had to re
Chris Blake
One of my favorite books on the craft of fiction is literary agent Donald Maass’s classic, “Writing the Breakout Novel.” Maass followed that up with “The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great.” His latest work, “Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling,” focuses on what it takes to write high-impact fiction in today’s genre-driven age.

Maass decided to write the book after he noticed commercial, genre fiction dominated T
Vaughn Roycroft
The first time I read this book I skimmed over the questions at the end of each segment (they really require deep thought, and the time and space for it), and I still found it quite useful in wrapping my head around where I wanted my work to go. I knew I'd have to revisit it before I went back to the revision drawing board, and this time I focused on the questions. I just finished, and it has catapulted my outlook on my writing life and the work itself into a whole new light (and I've been at th ...more
Maass, as always, has some great advice here for livening up your fiction if your draft is feeling stale. Much of it sounded similar to what he offered in The Fire in Fiction and Writing the Breakout Novel, though the spin here is that the modern audience (and agent) doesn't have the time for your boring-assed fiction. Do EVERYTHING YOU CAN to make sure your characters are memorable, your plots well-paced, and your endings so astounding their heads will explode. It's a tall order.

I came away fee
Andrew Crofflard
Oct 29, 2012 Andrew Crofflard rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Intermediate writers
Let's face it there a lot of books about writing and most say the same thing. What was refreshing about this book seemed to me that it was more advanced than most and took off where most stopped.

What was most interesting for me was the concept that to be engaging the writing must be deeply personal. What I found most interesting about his writing is that it did that. I'm not sure why I didn't imagine that to become a true literary artist the process should be any different from that of other for
Ann Godridge
It starts well, and some of the chapters make a lot of sense. Especially when he is talking about genre, and the need to break some of the rules, and stressing authenticity.

But then the whole thing is let down by some of the exercises.

"What's a foundational attribute of your protagonist? Create an odd tic or habit that implies the opposite. Add six times. Voila, a quirk!"

That seems to me to be pretty much the opposite of seeking emotional authenticity, and we are back into writing by numbers t
Jodi McIsaac
I always find Donald Maass' books on writing enormously helpful, and this book was no exception. Although some of the content seemed to be similar to his book The Fire in Fiction, the sections on deepening the emotional intensity were excellent (and much needed at this stage in my current work-in-progress!). I enjoy the exercises/questions he gives at the end of each chapter--I don't sit down and implement them all, but they are certainly good food for thought, especially if you have a scene tha ...more
Denna M. Davis
I grabbed this book because it was recommended reading for the upcoming workshop I'll be attending with the author, Donald Maass, as its host (Break Out Novel Initiative-BONI). After reading Writing the Breakout Novel last year, nearly a year ago actually, I find that Don still has the ability to shake my resolve as an author. This is not your average advice. This is a gut-check that makes you see yourself: pimples, laziness, clichés and all.

Thankfully, I know that I'm in this writing business f
Sometimes one more book can be one book to many.
In its favour, in a niche that is often populated my many cookie-cutter help guides, this book does cover new and different territory. Much of what is presented is worth consideration and may prove enlightening and help aspiring writers push their work to a better level.

After Larry Brooks book, I was inspired, clear of mind and purpose. However, after this book, my mind is cluttered and confidence is shot.

While Donald Maas raises some interesting p
Shaun Ryan
Maass has done it again. Hands-down the best book on writing I've read.

Update: Upon second reading, yup, still the best book on writing novels I've read.
Sydney Avey
Mr. Maass had me from chapter one when he suggested that writers tear down the wall between genre and literary fiction. Great stories told with beautiful writing is how he puts it. That is what I love to read and what I aim for in my writing. I wanted to cry and kiss him by the time I finished Chapter One. (Would this be characterized as warm writing Mr. Maass?)

The writing prompts are a little overwhelming, like a ten pound box of chocolates, Used judiciously they can't help but improve your wri
Jan 30, 2014 Brittany rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Writers with a finished or partially finished manuscript
How I Came To Read This Book: I was researching some good, more recent writing tomes and this one is pretty high-ranked on Goodreads, so I gave it a whirl.

The Plot: Essentially Donald Maass is deconstructing what makes runaway bestsellers in today's literary world what they are. He notes early on that many of today's top books defy genre but still have commonalities, namely by tapping into the toolbox of high impact storytelling techniques. Each of those general techniques (and sub-activities)
Rod Raglin
Go big or go home This latest offering from non-fiction author and literary agent/agency, Donald Maass, basically talks about the melding of literary and genre writing, or beautifully written, character driven novels with page-turning, plot driven novels, to create what he calls literary/commercial fiction. Maas liberally quotes (about a quarter of the book) from his favorite examples. Another big chunk of pages are taken up by exercises which I found interesting to read, but tedious to undertak ...more
Menglong Youk
This book was recommended to me by a booktuber when she talked about writing craft. I'm glad I picked this one up and enthusiastically read it because, personally, it's by far my top favorite book about writing craft. It, in my opinion, is a book that every new thriller-or-mystery writer should read at least once. I love how the writer describes the progression and includes useful steps of writing fiction. What's more, the summery at the end of each chapter is exceptional which makes readers fin ...more
Aditi Chopra
There are some good pointers and suggestions in this book. I particularly liked the "Inner Journey" section.
Frank Edwards
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 certai ...more
Cora Foerstner
Donald Maass’ book Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling is my favorite how-to book for writers.

Maass take both a common sense and analytical approach to evaluating 21st century fiction. He points out that novels have also evolved to meet the needs and wants of readers, and successful writers understand this.

“High-impact comes from a combination of two factors: great stories and beautiful writing . . . The publishing industry has a convenient term for
Robin Spano
A great premise, lots of value, but not as excellent as I thought it would be diving in. The book promises a journey into the center of yourself, but I felt like it stayed at surface level for most of the pages.

I'm glad I read this book, and I will save the checklists to apply to my manuscript once I have a completed first draft. But not the magic it promises in the introduction.
Cara Sexton
I'm a huge fan of some of Maass' other titles on writing, but this one didn't do it for me. While still containing plenty of good advice about writing, it didn't say anything that 'Writing the Breakout Novel' didn't already say, and say better. This was a bit more condensed, packing most of the book's suggestions into pages upon pages of bullet-pointed techniques that really needed more development (which, to be fair, Maass absolutely does beautifully in Writing the Breakout Novel and its accomp ...more
Stina Lindenblatt
This is easily the best Donald Maass book that he's written. If you're looking for easy, then don't bother with this book. Donald loves to challenge writers to become great writers, and this book is no exception. If you apply his techniques to your writing, you will be sweating (and cursing). It's that hard--but worth it.
Brent Weeks
Don's my agent. I'm a New York Times best selling novelist already. This book is making my next book better. Lots better.
This isn't a How-To-Write-a-Best-Seller paint-by-numbers. This is a book that asks YOU questions that make YOU dig deep to write the best book you can, if you're willing to do the work.
Absolutely great read. Very inspiring. I am ready to apply all that he says to my WIP. He really challenges us writers to go way beyond our comfort levels...and I agree that it probably is necessary. A must read.
Lee Thompson
Jan 09, 2013 Lee Thompson rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Serious writers
This is a book I'm going to revisit every time I write a new novel. Simply brilliant.
Michael Shumate
I had read Donald Maass's previous book Writing the Breakout Novel and expected this to be more of the same. It took things in a new direction and to a new depth. In fact, the thrust of this is that the books that touch us do so by getting us to tap into something deep within us. It is the emotional connection that we remember in a great book long after we've forgotten those with merely quirky characters, funny lines or breathtaking plots. Such writing is not for the timid or rushed.

It is poeti
Geoff Lynas
This book was all that I was expecting The Wonderbook to be. Provocative, knowledgeable. A slow read. Because on every page I would be transported by the ideas, to process them. Eventually I would realise I had read to the bottom of the page without taking anything else in. Then I would have to start again from the point at which I departed.

Its a 'Writers Digest' book so there is an invitation with it to register on their website. Recommended. Lots of downloadable goodies there. Including, the e
Michelle Lam
Excellent Reference

This book would be most helpful during revision stages. It will definitely turn a bore story to a great one. I read this book as part of my Prime benefits and loved it so much I bought the book. I decided on the hard copy since it would be easier to flip back and forth and to take notes.

The exercises on the back really make you think. It's a great book. My only complaint is sometimes the writing rambles and some things could be said in a less artsy manner.
Sebastien Castell
Nov 18, 2013 Sebastien Castell rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Published authors
Shelves: writing
An insightful exploration of modern fiction well-suited to experienced writers.

There are no end of books on fiction writing in print and online full of useful advice for the beginning writer. If you want to learn how to develop a three-act plot, construct scenes, develop protagonists, select point of view, and enhance scene description, you can pick up any of a hundred books that will get you started. What's harder to find is a book that gives you insight into ways to go past the basics. With Wr
I loved Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook and decided to give this book a try. It's good but it didn't blow me away like the workbook did. There are a ridiculous amount of questions at the end of each chapter that are intended to improve your writing, but you'd create a giant mess of a novel if you applied every single question to your own work. Like many other reviewers said, I'd suggest only using several of the questions, ones that stick out and really apply to what you're writing. H ...more
This book is fascinating. Amazing. Inspiring.

Books giving tips or telling writers how to write can really be hit or miss. Either they sound pretentious or the tips are common knowledge for many people.

This book, however, does neither.

It takes techniques and lays them out for the writer to observe. It offers suggestions in no right or wrong way, and gives inspiration where there perhaps was none before. It offers ways to get around blocks and confusion - questions to ask yourself when writing a
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“For me, where genre ends and literature begins doesn’t matter. What matters is whether a given novel hits me with high impact. If it does, it probably is fulfilling the purpose of fiction. It has drawn me into a story world, held me captive, taken me on a journey with characters like none I’ve ever met, revealed truths I’ve somehow always known and insights that rock my brain. It’s filled me with awe, which is to say it’s made me see the familiar in a wholly new way and made the unfamiliar a foundational part of me. It both entertains and matters. It both captures our age and becomes timelessly great. It does all that with the sturdy tools of story and the flair of narrative art.” 3 likes
“When a hot trend turns into a sub-category, new strictures arise along with it. Tropes turn into shortcuts, character paradigms become cardboard cutouts. Publishing pulls the bandwagon, true enough, but when feel-alike fiction floods the market its impact declines because it is starved of what makes fiction rich, surprising, moving, and masterful.” 2 likes
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