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

4.18  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,175 Ratings  ·  140 Reviews
Discover the Difference Between a So-So Manuscript and a Novel Readers Can't Forget

We'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Something similar is true of a great many unpublished manuscripts.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
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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65th out of 593 books — 1,066 voters
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Anonymous-9 Anonymous-9
Jul 11, 2014 Anonymous-9 Anonymous-9 rated it it was amazing
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
Sammy Sutton
Nov 29, 2011 Sammy Sutton rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 21, 2010 Taka rated it it was amazing

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
May 24, 2011 V. rated it really liked it
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,
Margo Berendsen
Apr 03, 2011 Margo Berendsen rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 11, 2012 Suzanne rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 19, 2014 Justin rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
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
Jun 08, 2013 Wendy rated it really liked it
Shelves: on-writing
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
Tasha Seegmiller
Dec 14, 2014 Tasha Seegmiller rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writerly-books
I have been a fan of articles written by Maass, but this is the first of his craft books that I have read. From the beginning I was hooked. Maass discusses nuances in different genres as well as techniques within the text itself that is often misused in the way writers try to convey emotion, tension and the like.

I was blown away by this book. There were some sample texts I skimmed as they aren't pertinent to what I write, but the exercises at the end of each chapter I will visit time and again.
Wesley Fox
Apr 03, 2014 Wesley Fox rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
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
May 02, 2016 Bryan rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. An eye opener to be sure. I especially appreciate how each technique has an example from a real work of fiction that uses the technique well. Coming to a scene with a character's motivation, emotional mindset, etc. is highly transformative for a writer. Thank you Mr. Maass for your incredible insights into the work and process of writing superior fiction.
Mia Storey
May 22, 2015 Mia Storey rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: any potential author looking for ways to make their fiction more exciting.
what makes a character worthy of being a hero, or becoming the primary protagonist in the novel you write? When an author discovers what makes these characters extraordinary, then it's possible you may have the makings of a potential Breakout Novel! But it doesn't stop here. There is much more work to be done to create that "Unputdownable Book".The reader must become emersed in the life of your protagonist. (Maass uses examples of protagonists within the pages of many books he's read over the ye ...more
Conrad Zero
Aug 12, 2013 Conrad Zero rated it it was amazing
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.
Miranda Rae Carter
Each year I volunteer at the Surrey International Writers Conference. I love making connections, meeting authors, swapping information, seeing what is new and making new friends. This past year I had the pleasure of being in the editor/agent appointment room. Donald Maass was there, too, and I was lucky enough to be part of the group when he came over to chat. What a friendly and interesting gentleman he is. He is also an expert in the literary world, and this book has a lot of his--very useful ...more
Carolyn James
Nov 15, 2015 Carolyn James rated it liked it
Shelves: writing
So many novels, so much writer's block! I read this book to see If it would help me figure how to fix my tension drooping pieces. Overall I got a lot of good suggestions, but when I compare it to other works I've read on writing, this book didn't light of fire under me to actually write. I opened word documents, stared at chapters I liked and disliked, but nothing new was accomplished. Maybe I should blame my own busy schedule and lack of motivation and not this book, but overall I was a little ...more
Jun 21, 2009 Crystal rated it it was amazing
This stays on my shelf to pull out over and over again. Definitely a book that a writer needs.
Marco den Ouden
Nov 05, 2014 Marco den Ouden rated it it was amazing
This is a terrific book for the budding writer. Maass is a literary agent and has read many, many manuscripts in his career. So he knows what makes for a gripping story and what will put the reader to sleep. This book, using excerpts from many novels as examples, shows you how to develop meaningful protagonist, use scene setting effectively, convey emotion and develop a voice.

Perhaps the best chapter in the book is Chapter 8 on what he calls micro-tension. How to create tension and maintain it i
Einar Nielsen
Jul 11, 2015 Einar Nielsen rated it liked it
This book as some really good points and I love how Maass dives deep into certain subjects. But I do have some complaints. I found the chapters to be a bit long ad may it would have worked better if the subchapters were main chapters with exercises. It's just that I had problems sometimes focusing on certain subjects while others worked better for me. Maybe with shorter chapters those problems would have been less noticeable. But if you are reading a few of these creative writing guides, you can ...more
Aug 03, 2012 Cathy added it
Terrific craft book
Joyce Magnin
May 25, 2009 Joyce Magnin is currently reading it
Micro Tension!
Steve Shea
Sep 04, 2015 Steve Shea rated it really liked it
Shelves: about-writing
NOTE: This is a book about how to write books, by a literary agent. I don't think writing about that constitutes a SPOILER, but if you don't want to read a dust-jacket-level synopsis of The Fire in Fiction, then stop reading here.

Still with me? Cool. I hope you read the book, too.

Although it's worth reading from start to finish (and I savored it, spreading the first three chapters over a year), Maass' advice in The Fire in Fiction boils down pretty neatly to something like this:

Use multiple ch
Apr 24, 2014 Jacey rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Apr 06, 2014 Brian rated it really liked it
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
Oct 22, 2009 Ben Campbell rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 17, 2011 Lauren rated it really liked it
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
Richard Good
Nov 27, 2011 Richard Good rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 23, 2012 David Fuller rated it it was amazing
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
J.L. Dobias
Dec 26, 2012 J.L. Dobias rated it liked it
Shelves: book-shelf-10
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
Rachel Blom
Jan 25, 2014 Rachel Blom rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-on-writing
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
Menglong Youk
I've read one of Donald Maass's books, Writing 21st Century Fiction, and I enjoyed it a great deal, the best writing craft book I've ever read so far. Unsurprisingly, I expected something big from this book, but it let me down terribly. Well, the book is a bit boring and the author cut many scripts from other books which I didn't one exist to put in this one. I don't know about other people, but for me, I barely get anything at all after finishing it. Sorry. -.-
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