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Writing the Breakout Novel (Breakout Novel)

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  2,446 ratings  ·  265 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
Paperback, 264 pages
Published August 15th 2002 by Writer's Digest Books (first published May 10th 2001)
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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
Best Books on Writing
15th out of 530 books — 990 voters
Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald MaassBandersnatch by Diana Pavlac GlyerOn Writing by Stephen KingBird by Bird by Anne LamottNo Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty
Makes me want to sit down and write!
1st out of 39 books — 22 voters

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Community Reviews

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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 1 of 5 stars
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
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
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
Amy  Eller Lewis
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
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.

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
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
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
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
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
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
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'
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
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
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.
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
This book came highly recommended by a number of acquaintances, and I have to say it disappointed on all counts.

The first 50 pages or so repeat the same statements over and over again: The author is an amazing agent and his clients are so rich, and if your writing hasn't caught an agent's attention and gotten you as rich as his clients, you must really suck!

While absolute novices might find something useful in this book, I found it mostly contained regurgitated information I've read online and i
Stephanie Bibb
I have seen Writing the Breakout Novel advertised or referenced many times. However, I just recently picked this book up after borrowing it from another writer in the critique group I attend.

As a writer, I found this to be a useful book, even though some of its references are a bit dated. On the other hand, I was able to follow quite a few of his references (be warned, his references include spoilers), even in genres I don't typically read. And history cycles, so several of his 'outdated' refere
Katie St.
Again, this is another book by Donald that explains what makes novels great no matter what the genre. His teaching is a lot to take in and absorb, and you won't incorporate all of it into your writing at first, but you will in time if you highlight, and keep it as a reference for each manuscript you write. When I would read something that gave me an 'aha' moment, I would race to the manuscript I'm currently writing and apply it. This helped me take the concept and put it to practice right away w ...more
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.
I received this book as a gift after NaNoWriMo. It's a bit dated, but that didn't antagonize me as much as it clearly bothered some other readers. I liked that he didn't really make a formula, but talked about what worked and gave a lot of examples. Could you figure it out on your own? Yes, maybe eventually. But reading hundreds of stories takes a lot of time, and doesn't give you the depth and breadth of reading that Mr. Maass has a result of being an agent.

Also, I think the fact that he isn't
P.D. Martin
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!

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.
Andrew Irwin
May 03, 2014 Andrew Irwin rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: authors, amateur and established.
Recommended to Andrew by:
Shelves: writing
Donald Maass manages to both inspire and instruct, writing a book which I believe would be beneficial to beginners and many established authors alike, particularly those who are struggling to, as Maass says, 'break out'.

There's a lot of advice in here but Maass writes in an entertaining, easy to read style and uses contemporary breakout novels for his examples of what works. His work is distinct from the mass of generic 'how to write' guidebooks and I struggle to imagine the author who wouldn't
J.B. Simmons
This book came out almost 15 years ago. Brush off the dust and you'll find some great advice. I appreciated Maass's insights on larger-than-life characters and conflict on every page. He is clearly a pro on common aspects of successful novels.

But the dust is getting thicker. The book's commentary on eBooks and the publishing market has not aged well. The examples of successful novels, while still good, would benefit from an update. It is kind of fun, though, to peek into this time capsule from
I found Maass's book not only helpful, but also a genuine pleasure to read. He clearly has lots of experience and knows what he's talking about, and the straightforward, warm, and even funny way that he shares his expertise is such a gift! The only chapter I felt wasn't particularly helpful or interesting was the third to last, on advanced plot structures and mostly applying previously taught information to genres I don't plan on ever writing, or reading much of, but even then, I enjoyed reading ...more
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Ink & Insights 2015 1 2 Mar 29, 2015 04:33AM  
  • 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
  • Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints
  • Characters and Viewpoint (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore
  • GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction
  • Techniques of the Selling Writer
  • The Complete Handbook Of Novel Writing: Everything You Need To Know About Creating & Selling Your Work (Writers Digest)
  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print
  • Scene and Structure (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Story Engineering: Character Development, Story Concept, Scene Construction
  • Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors
  • First Draft in 30 Days: A Novel Writer's System for Building a Complete and Cohesive Manuscript
  • Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies
  • Dialogue: Techniques and exercises for crafting effective dialogue
  • Description & Setting

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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