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

4.39  ·  Rating Details ·  523 Ratings  ·  104 Reviews
The first book to provide a concrete framework for writing powerful literary/commercial novels. With this book, literary novelists will: Learn to create compelling plots, while commercial novelists will be able to achieve literary quality writing and win critical respect. Examine examples, techniques, and exercises. Learn practical tools in each chapter that allow novelist ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published October 16th 2012 by Writer's Digest Books (first published September 1st 2012)
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Jonathan Peto
Dec 16, 2013 Jonathan Peto rated it really liked it
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
Apr 08, 2014 Cindy Dees rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 11, 2013 Chris Blake rated it it was amazing
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
Brent Weeks
Nov 02, 2012 Brent Weeks rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing-advice
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.
Liz Fenwick
Apr 08, 2017 Liz Fenwick rated it it was amazing
A thought provoking look at writing fiction. It was the right book for me to be reading now. As with all of Maass's book there is insight and then practical exercise to push your writing further. It's a book I will return to again and again.
Jan 30, 2014 Brittany rated it liked it
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)
Vaughn Roycroft
Dec 08, 2012 Vaughn Roycroft rated it it was amazing
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
Jodi McIsaac
Jun 20, 2013 Jodi McIsaac rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Shaun Ryan
Dec 06, 2012 Shaun Ryan rated it it was amazing
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.
Jun 13, 2014 Suzanne rated it really liked it
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 it was amazing
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
A.E. Rawson
Feb 21, 2013 A.E. Rawson rated it it was ok
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
Richard Thomas
Apr 12, 2013 Richard Thomas rated it it was amazing
One of the best books on writing I've read in years. Pick it up. NOW.
Frank Edwards
Sep 08, 2014 Frank Edwards rated it it was amazing
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
Denna M. Davis
Feb 21, 2014 Denna M. Davis rated it it was amazing
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
Rod Raglin
Mar 17, 2013 Rod Raglin rated it did not like it
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
Jan 16, 2015 Stephanie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, writing
For me, this book is worth it for the thought-provoking questions at the end of each chapter. Dozens and dozens of questions that help writers dissect their scenes and characters to deepen, intensify, and add complexity. Practical applications of how to add tension and micro tension are invaluable if you're looking to write and sell a commercial novel. I've also heard him teach a workshop based on this book, and he goes into many of these questions and prompts in detail.

As for the content of the
May 09, 2014 Staticblaq rated it liked it
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
Sydney Avey
May 05, 2014 Sydney Avey rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing-books
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
Menglong Youk
Jan 25, 2015 Menglong Youk rated it it was amazing
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
Tonia Harris
Nov 16, 2014 Tonia Harris rated it it was amazing
This book ranks high on the list of craft books I recommend to writers, either new to the craft or with years of storytelling under their belt. Maass, a respected literary agent, doesn't talk down to writers, or offer a "winning" formula. Instead, he breaks down key concepts such as micro tension and emotional layering. Like any great teachers, he doesn't give you the answers, but leads the way to asking the right questions of your characters and their stories.
Dave Morris
Dec 01, 2014 Dave Morris rated it it was ok
"Common and obvious symbols are lame: dove, eagle, rose, sunrise, winter, lightning. Others are so obtuse that they are eternal fodder for term papers: albatross, white whale, the Valley of Ashes."

If you don't see anything wrong with that statement and if you prefer, say, the brash oomph of the Breakfast at Tiffany's movie to the slippery nuance and ambiguities of the novel, then this is the book for you.
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.
Stina Lindenblatt
Oct 24, 2012 Stina Lindenblatt rated it it was amazing
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.
Raelee Carpenter
May 09, 2015 Raelee Carpenter rated it it was amazing
If you haven't started writing yet, and you don't know how, this is not the book for you. If you're working on a novel that you care about and want to know how to craft it into something that can change the world, get this book.
Apr 08, 2013 Tracey rated it it was amazing
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.
Susie Finkbeiner
Mar 31, 2014 Susie Finkbeiner rated it it was amazing
Shelves: es-done
This is a book that novelists should have on their MUST read list. I think I underlined about half the sentences on each page. Highly recommended.
Aditi Chopra
Mar 12, 2015 Aditi Chopra rated it liked it
There are some good pointers and suggestions in this book. I particularly liked the "Inner Journey" section.
Lee Thompson
Oct 17, 2012 Lee Thompson rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Serious writers
This is a book I'm going to revisit every time I write a new novel. Simply brilliant.
Mandi Lynn
Oct 17, 2015 Mandi Lynn rated it it was amazing
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Donald Maass is the author of more than 16 novels. He now works as a literary agent, representing dozens of novelists in the SF, fantasy, crime, mystery, romance and thriller categories. He speaks at writer's conferences throughout the country and lives in New York City.
More about Donald Maass...

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“High-impact 21st century fiction is built on unique voices, uncommon characters, and tales that can only be told by a particular author. They’re sui generis.” 3 likes
“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
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