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

4.36  ·  Rating details ·  804 ratings  ·  142 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 rea
Paperback, 224 pages
Published October 16th 2012 by Writer's Digest Books (first published September 1st 2012)
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Justin Murphy To me, Writing The Breakout Novel was more about ''How To Write The Next Bestseller'', patterning their work after established authors who'd been succ…moreTo me, Writing The Breakout Novel was more about ''How To Write The Next Bestseller'', patterning their work after established authors who'd been successful, such as James Patterson. Yet this seems to be 360 turn in an industry that changed a great deal since the previous book. Writing 21st Century Fiction is more about the author looking within him/herself and writing a book from his/her life. Albeit with a few commercial touches here and there.(less)

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Jonathan Peto
Dec 16, 2013 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
Brent Weeks
Nov 02, 2012 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.
K.M. Weiland
Jun 30, 2022 rated it really liked it
Maass is never a disappointment. One of my favorite things about his writing on writing is that he brings as much heart to the table as he does how-to. He is a powerful proponent for “stories that matter,” and as always he does an excellent job sharing his experience as an agent in a way that helps writers write more efficiently and knowledgeably, but also more passionately.
Cindy Dees
Apr 08, 2014 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
May 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was amazing! If you write books or are thinking about it, definitely try this out. Maass covers every possibly element of story you could think of and warps everything you think you know.
Jan 30, 2014 rated it liked it
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)
Chris Blake
Feb 11, 2013 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
Vaughn Roycroft
Dec 08, 2012 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
Ann Rawson
Feb 21, 2013 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
Liz Fenwick
Apr 08, 2017 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. ...more
Jodi McIsaac
Jun 20, 2013 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
Katerina Diamond
Jul 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is a pretty good book to dip and out of but I prefer his book on the emotional craft of writing fiction.
Jun 13, 2014 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
Shaun Ryan
Dec 06, 2012 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.
Sunyi Dean
Mar 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Another amazing Maass craft book. Others don't work well for me as they tend to focus on structure or slightly more formulaic writing aspects. Maass though is basically analysing a series of best sellers and teaching you to spot patterns in how they're written, then providing suggestions for implementing that in your own work. Much like EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION, the only other craft book I've read which happens to also be by Maass, I will return to this many times I'm sure.
Andrew Crofflard
Oct 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Rod Raglin
Mar 17, 2013 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
Brandon Petry
Feb 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Right up there with Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print as the best and most useful craft books I've ever read. Anyone interested in writing literary genre fiction, genre fiction, literary fiction or whatever you want to label what you write should read this book. Each chapter ends with sections of review and checklists that are so helpful I know I will be coming back to this book many times. Highly ...more
Dave Morris
Dec 01, 2014 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.
Apr 08, 2013 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.
Richard Thomas
Apr 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books on writing I've read in years. Pick it up. NOW. ...more
May 28, 2022 rated it liked it
Shelves: on-writing
This book consists of 9 chapters focusing on different storytelling aspects, in which Maass waffles on about what brilliant books (he calls them "high-impact stories" here) need to stand out and how to achieve that. It all boils down to these two things: be bold, and pour yourself into your stories so they're as unique and specific as you are.

I'm sure there are many authors out there who need to hear this, but it's nothing we haven't heard before. Nothing groundbreaking. However, and this is why
Mato Steger
Dec 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
I can't decide which Maass book I prefer... Oh wait, yes I can. Emotional Craft of Fiction. I liked this book - hence 4 stars, and I will likely read it again, as I do with all my craft books. Matt Bird's Secrets of Story was more interesting and better developed, in my opinion. Maass hits some high notes in this, but never goes into enough detail. ...more
Becky Avella
Apr 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I love this book.
I love this author.
Every page is filled with underlines and notes scribbled in the margins.
No other teacher of writing craft gets right to the heart of who I long to be as Don Maass does. I fully expect the cover will eventually fall off of this book because it will be re-read so much.

Shawn Bird
This one took me a good year to read, because you need to have a specific project on the go, and time to work with the questions if you want to get the most out of this book.

It will be a book to return to with every project, once the 'crappy first draft' is done, and one is ready to edit into brilliance.
May 01, 2022 rated it liked it
While I did learn a few surprisingly things from this book, I found it rather repetitive.

Also, it definitely spoiled a number of well-known books because of the need to break the stories down for us to see how successful authors bring their messages across to the readers.
Heather Myers
Aug 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent, as usual

Maas has always been excellent at writing books on how to write, but I especially liked his chapters on process in this book - what defines success? What type of writer are you? Definitely recommend. Thank you for sharing!
Boo Walker
Aug 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

This is one of my favorite craft books of all time. It spoke to me very deeply. I like that he dove into the spiritual and cosmic. The books that he describes are exactly the books I set out to write.
Frank Edwards
Sep 08, 2014 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 Davis
Feb 21, 2014 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
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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

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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.” 6 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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