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Writing the Breakout Novel

(Breakout Novel)

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  3,763 ratings  ·  393 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
Paperback, 264 pages
Published August 15th 2002 by Writer's Digest Books (first published May 10th 2001)
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Jun 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
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:

Brent Weeks
Jun 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing-advice
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
Dec 27, 2013 rated it liked it
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
May 24, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
J. Wootton
Jan 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Maas' title is corny. It's so corny that I might never have ordered it in the first place if I hadn't won a gift certificate to Writers' Digest books. It sounds like a writing hack's how-to book; I assure you, it's anything but.

First off, Maas is a top literary agent in New York. He is also the author of quite a few pseudonymous novels (14 as of 2001, probably more now but since I don't know what his pseudonym is I can't check). He's made a successful career out of his studies on this topic, and
Melissa Stacy
As a writers' manual on storytelling craft, this 2001 publication by author (and successful literary agent) Donald Maass, "Writing the Breakout Novel: Insider Advice for Taking Your Fiction to the Next Level," remains one of my favorites.

I first read this book in 2004 or 2005, and came across it again this year (2018) at my library's fundraising sale. I bought a very notated, very worn hardback copy and reread it, finding as much truth in these pages as I did as an aspiring writer more than a de
Jane Stewart
Jul 18, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Aug 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
G.H. Eckel
Jun 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
1. The writing in this book is marvelous. By that, I mean the style is smooth, sophisticated and flowing. It makes me guess that the craft of writing must really be valued at Donald Maass's literary agency. (Yay!) 2. The level of literary knowledge is off the charts. Donald pulls in so many examples from so many novels, it'll make you dizzy.

I've read a million how-t0-write-a-novel books. Most are in the ra-ra, I-already-knew-that category. This one was more. The biggest thing I took away from t
Kari J.
Mar 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing

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
Adrian Alvarez
Jan 28, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Amy  Eller Lewis
Sep 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 27, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: writing
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
R.A. Watt
Mar 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Poor title and cover? Yes.

But I still thoroughly enjoyed this book on writing. I think maybe the extreme of the creative and literary community might be offended at some of the ideas he puts forth, but I thought it was a great read. It puts that touch on what you can't quite place your finger on when it comes to what sells.

Is he wanting you to win literary awards? No. And he makes no bones about it. He's one of the most successful agents in the he might actually know a thing or two
Roman Kurys
Mar 17, 2018 rated it liked it
This was a solid book.

Once I got past the fact that the author is a pompous ass that is. His tone and attitude throughout the book made me cringe numerous times. It’s not that he was not right in stating his point, it was how he stated it that rubbed me the wrong way.

Now with that out of the way this book has a lot of good advice, especially towards the end where Maas talks about agents and gives a general insight into publishing industry. For me, the last few chapters is what made the book. Th
Apr 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing-books
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.
Chris Dietzel
Feb 15, 2021 rated it liked it
As a book on writing, I much preferred On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life After Which Everything Was Different, and others. But this one gives you insight from an agent's perspective, which can be valuable. One thing Maass repeatedly does, however, is ruin endings of various books for no reason. Even when it's not in the chapter dealing with resolution, he tells readers how various books end, so only read this if you've already read any book he discusses ...more
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
Sep 05, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: shelf-of-shame
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
Mar 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This was a great book. Yes, you can learn a lot by constant writing and that is important. It is also important though to continue learning through other means too. I thought this book had a lot of positive advice and points that can help you with writing a good novel. It is good to get information from people who have dealt with published authors. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is writing even if you don't follow everything written in its pages. I believe it gives you a lot to ...more
Oganalp Canatan
Jan 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
A must read for anyone in the writing business. Not only book writing, but scenario writers for games and movies can learn a lot from the system taught as well. Maass is an industry giant, so heeding his words is not a bad practice.

That said, the book shows its age, especially when talking about self-publications and e-books. There is, after all, a thing called “Kindle” that pretty much changed the game. Certain examples like terrorism, economic problems as plot structures and themes are also te
Apr 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Anna Staniszewski
Dec 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reread
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. ...more
P.D. Martin
May 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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!

Christina McDonald
Oct 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A well-structured book on the craft of writing that will help authors take their writing to the next level. Not that it will make you a NY Times bestselling author, but it asks detailed questions that will help you re-examine your writing and re-frame your work.

A practical guide for authors at any stage.
Dean Fox
Jul 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
This is the book that I find most people recommend by this author, although I found "The Fire and Fiction" and "The Emotional Craft of Fiction" to be more helpful to me personally.

One by one, I've been buying all of Donald Maass' books on writing. I find useful insights to incorporate in my own writing on virtually every page of his work.
Meg Elison
Feb 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Surprisingly useful! Good examples, intolerable tone.
Dec 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Big topics for me to focus on as I write my next manuscript. Let’s see if I can focus on some of the topics for my coming submissions to my critique group. Definitely going to be referring to this frequently!
Tammie McElligott
Oct 02, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Any Writer
Shelves: writingbooks
This book caught my attention because the author Donald Maass worked with James Patterson whose books I enjoy.

Like a Patterson book this writing book moves quickly and is full of fresh advice for the writer just starting out or that writer who has been published but sort of stuck in the mid-list.

Maass talks about going big and uses examples from classics and modern day bestsellers and points at what exactly worked in those novels and how to use them in your own.

Sense of time, pace, tension and l
Apr 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Simply the best book I have ever read on writing. It's not a typical writing craft "how to", it's more about ideas. How you can beef up your existing or work-in-progress novel to make it more powerful, more engaging, more significant, how to "break out". It took me much longer to read than might be expected, and this was simply because almost every page sparked an idea, and I would have to stop to make a note of it before continuing.

Cannot recommend it highly enough to the aspiring, or even to t
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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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