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The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great

4.23 of 5 stars 4.23  ·  rating details  ·  787 ratings  ·  114 reviews
Discover the Difference Between a So-So Manuscript and a Novel Readers Can't ForgetWe've all read them: novels by our favorite authors that disappoint. Uninspired and lifeless, we wonder what happened. Was the author in a hurry? Did she have a bad year? Has he lost interest altogether?

Something similar is true of a great many unpublished manuscripts. They are okay stories...more
Paperback, 265 pages
Published May 6th 2009 by Writer's Digest Books (first published January 1st 2009)
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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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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,345)
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Anonymous-9 Anonymous-9
I love Donald Maass' take on writing and what makes a good book. (I also own WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL.) Maass discourages churning out pages which may result in a book, yes, but what's the quality? Like only the best editors, Maass pushes writers to push past "good" and strive for excellent. The introductory chapter with a section on "Status Seekers and Storytellers" holds up a mirror--reading it was a reality check. Maass cuts through the bulls*%!, which he describes as writers declaring, "Th...more
May 24, 2011 V. rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: writing
Most of the information here is the standard stuff you would find in any good how-to book on writing. But there are also some innovative techniques that make a lot of sense and give a deeper understanding of how to make fiction work. The description of techniques is good, how other authors employ them is clearly chown, but how to use them in your own writing gets a bit woolly.

This isn't surprising since he can't know the specifics of your story, but at times it felt too generic in its approach,...more
Sammy Sutton
The Fire in Fiction
By Donald Maass

This is not the type of book I normally post a review about on my Blog, but it is such a fabulous tool for writers, I just can’t pass up the opportunity. THE FIRE IN FICTION is a powerful guide to writing fiction. The author’s insight into the many styles and skill levels is simply uncanny.

The format serves as a fantastic cover-to-cover read as well as a dynamic reference. Mr. Maass gives reason and definition to admirable style. In a short amount of text, he di...more

Because Donald Maass's earlier book, Writing the Breakout Novel was so good, I was afraid of being let down by his newest and didn't even touch it for a while when it arrived in mail.

What is he going to say that could be better? Is this going to be just a rehash of the old material in his earlier book?

Doubts swirled, but I finally convinced myself to read it.

What a ride.

He goes well above and beyond my highest expectations. Compared to his earlier book, the book is more tightly organized...more
Margo Berendsen
My favorite writing book is Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, but now Birdy will have to share the #1 spot. Bird by Bird and the Fire in Fiction are both about writing but cover completely different things. Bird is about the writing life, getting your first draft down, how to keep your butt in the chair, why you should aways keep paper and pen in your back pocket.

Fire is about specifics. You've got your first draft done. Even your second or third draft. But it's still not getting interest. The Fire...more
I'm about halfway through the first draft of my novel, spinning my wheels in that notorious middle-plot wasteland where not enough is happening. I can see where the story needs to go (I do know the ending!), but I've lost my momentum. One of my characters is pointless, I'm overrun with backstory, and there are way too many scenes without tension.

I realize it's a first draft and some crappiness is permitted at this point, but in trying to get myself out of the rut, I thought I'd finally give thi...more
The Fire in Fiction offers a good amount of knowledge on improving one's writing from the perspective of a literary agent. The book covers 9 chapters:
Protagonists vs. Heroes
Characters Who Matter
Scenes That Can't Be Cut
The World of the Novel
A Singular Voice
Making the Impossible Real
Tension All the Time
The Fire in Fiction
Maass provides plenty of examples from bestselling authors to support his points. Most of the advice in here isn't necessarily a "how to write", but larger ideas to...more
Not the usual writing manual--this book is ideal for writers who have a complete manuscript, but still want to "punch it up". Author Donald Maass is a well-known literary agent, so as far as marketing fiction goes, there are few more knowledgeable sources. He draws examples from a wide range of fiction, from thrillers and sci-fi to Don DeLillo and Andre Dubus. Chapters cover microtension, dialogue that moves, and other techniques to entice a reader to hang on every word of your 500 page magnum o...more
Wesley Fox
Fire in Fiction is informative, easy-to-read, has plenty of examples, and lays out a good starting point for people who want to be novelists. There are dozens of excerpts from numerous bestselling books from the past few decades, providing credibility as well as Donald Maass's own authority as a longtime literary agent.

There's no course you can take on writing and selling novels in college. If there is somewhere, it is probably worthless. For a young wannabe-author, it is hard to take advice or...more
Conrad Zero
I only wish I could give it more stars.

For the most part, the topics here are advanced. If you don't have a grip on things like plot, P.O.V., passive writing, and when to show/tell, then you might want to work your way up to this book. But I have no doubts the ideas here will help make anyone's fiction writing better.
Crystal Laine
This stays on my shelf to pull out over and over again. Definitely a book that a writer needs.
Aug 03, 2012 Cathy added it
Terrific craft book
Joyce Magnin
May 25, 2009 Joyce Magnin is currently reading it
Micro Tension!
There are books on writing and there are Books On Writing. This is one of the latter. It would be tempting to say: if you only read one book on writing make it this one, but - hey - I haven't read them all.

This is not for the beginner, it's for those who already have a grasp of the basics and probably it helps if you've already completed at least one novel. This book doesn't tell you how to write, or even how to write a novel, but it does tell you how to write a BETTER novel. The cover says it...more
Okay, okay, this is not a book you can read one time and then review it. The tension section of this book is priceless, but it's a little difficult to duplicate. The best thing to do is read this book after you have read one of his client's novels, and I mean read it thoroughly. I read the Night Angel Trilogy, so I was able to relate his teachings to that novel. It really helped with understanding the concepts. He mentioned plenty of examples from other stories in The Fire in Fiction, but they w...more
Ben Campbell
Here is a sharp point that will stick you in the temple, capture you in a head-lock and coerce you to reassess your imaginative writing skills! If you think you can write, have chapped fingertips from chasing the keyboard and haven't been published yet...if you've had friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, mates or spouses or children read your stories or manuscript without telling you it stinks, needs a nuclear work-over, has incomplete sentences, little originality, lacks curiosity and ima...more
I stubbornly read this all the way through, like a novel, which may or may not be the best way to approach it. I was working on revising my own novel and I felt like immersing myself in chapter after chapter of revision advice was something I needed to do. Each chapter presents an area of storytelling that Maass has identified as being frequently problematic for novelists, and the problems and possible solutions are elucidated by examples from published novels and exercises for revision.

Some of...more
Richard Good
As a hopeful writer, I've been looking a long time for "just the right inspiration" to get me moving, and I suspect I am not alone. I'm sure that what I'm really looking for is something to make me quit playing the procrastination game. While Donald Maass' "The Fire in Fiction" contains advice that is similar to other writing-instruction manuals, it did have something that linked to a standard recommendation from similar books: If you want to know how to write well, read great examples. From thi...more
David Fuller
More good advice from Don Maass on improving your novel. I've enjoyed his other books as well, particularly since they are full of concrete techniques to improve your fiction.
In this one he makes an interesting distinction when asking the reader why you want to write that novel: do you want to get published? Or do you want to write a great book? THe two are not mutually exclusive, of course, but he argues that if you're dead set on publishing, you'll be more likely to aim for a novel that's "goo...more
J.L. Dobias
I found The Fire in Fiction to be helpful only in delineating things I've previously discovered and wished I'd known earlier. Perhaps it even has helped me hone in on the target in some areas I tend to slack off in and I would have loved to have read this five years ago before I did all the research that helped me see the targets the first time.

What it is most insightful of is that it encompasses the mind of a literary agent and what this one likes and expects from his authors. And perhaps some...more
Rachel Blom
What I like about this book is that first of all, it's practical. Maass doesn't just talk about tension for instance, he shows you what he means. Secondly, I love that he doesn't just use literary examples, but also quotes from popular books. I get a bit tired of the many books on writing that only use 'literature' as an example instead of best selling 'commercial' fiction as if that is somehow beneath the dignity of an aspiring writer. The third thing I liked about this book is that it's passio...more
Ava Jae
Sep 07, 2011 Ava Jae rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Writers
I’ll admit that I caved into buying this one because it was one of those books I suspected I should read and never really got around to picking up, but now Borders is going out of business and I figured well, what better time than now? So I bought it. And I read the first chapter. And I had a serious facepalm Why-did-I-wait-so-absurdly-long-to-read-this-book?-moment.

I mean it when I say my only regret was not reading The Fire in Fiction sooner. The advice is fantastic and the exercises at the e...more
Monica Rodriguez
Wow. I've read a lot of books on writing. On building characters, on story structure, and on writing craft in general. The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great falls into the category of general craft, as it touches on many aspects of writing. It is one of the -- if not the -- best books on craft I have read. Maass's insight hits home every time, explanations are clear, examples further make his points, and by far the best, the exercises after each section ar...more
Robin Lemke
Donald Maass has a lot of insight into what makes books work, he reads a lot of them - published and unpublished - and he's really good at organizing those insights in a helpful way.

When it comes right down to it, you just have to write well. If you try to keep *everything* in mind while writing, you'll go crazy. But, I find it really helpful to take one concept at a time, and think about it while I'm editing.

My favorite from this book is microtension - creating tension in one sentence, and reli...more
Another fantastic book on the craft of writing from Donald Maass. There's some overlap in the examples he uses in his books, but I get so much out of each one that the repetition to drive a point home isn't only forgivable but is helpful. A great resource for writing fiction.
Regency Girl
This book is worth buying just for the chapter on microtension alone. (Chapter 8 - Tension All the Time) Every chapter ends with a section called Practical Tools that's meant to guide you in putting the chapter topic into practice in your own writing. Highly recommend!
C. L. Deards
After writing my novel I was looking for a way to organize my editing process beyond a simple "that doesn't sound right" or "that's not what I meant". I've kept Donald Maass's points in mind with each edit and I feel that my novel is better for the suggestions.
To put all of his points into practice has proven very difficult, but with each editing pass I do come closer.
His points can be summarized as such: make each line of your prose important and relevant. Each line should have passion, purpo...more
Suzanna Linton
This was really helpful. What's funny is that I submitted a query to the author's literary agency and wondered why I was rejected. Now I think I know why. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is serious about writing, not for money but out of a passion for the craft.
Extremely helpful. Maass inspired me to get back at it, but gave me the tools to write with new vigor and skill. A must read for any budding novelist.
Jan 16, 2012 Janet rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Writers and avid readers
I think the thing I most appreciate about this book is that in the process of explaining how to improve one's writing, it also enhances one's ability to be a truly appreciatice reader. Maass takes his audience through examples of fine writing, adeptly pointing out what makes the techniques work so well and how they could fall short if not artfully applied.

This book is going in an easily accessible spot on my writer's reference shelf. I have a feeling that it's one I'll be consulting often.

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  • Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time
  • Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore
  • Story Engineering: Character Development, Story Concept, Scene Construction
  • The Art of War for Writers
  • Techniques of the Selling Writer
  • Chapter After Chapter: Discover the Dedication & Focus You Need to Write the Book of Your Dreams
  • Bullies, Bastards & Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction
  • Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go
  • Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints
  • GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction
  • The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master
  • The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller
  • Wired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence
  • The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life
  • Dialogue: Techniques and exercises for crafting effective dialogue
  • Scene and Structure (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Description & Setting
  • On Writing Romance: How to Craft a Novel That Sells
Writing the Breakout Novel Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook: Hands-On Help for Making Your Novel Stand Out and Succeed Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling The Breakout Novelist: Craft and Strategies for Career Fiction Writers The Career Novelist: A Literary Agent Offers Strategies for Success

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