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The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write with Emotional Power, Develop Achingly Real Characters, Move Your Readers, and Create Riveting Moral Stakes
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The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write with Emotional Power, Develop Achingly Real Characters, Move Your Readers, and Create Riveting Moral Stakes

4.35  ·  Rating details ·  1,377 ratings  ·  256 reviews
Engage Your Readers with Emotion

While writers might disagree over showing versus telling or plotting versus pantsing, none would argue this: If you want to write strong fiction, you must make your readers feel. The reader's experience must be an emotional journey of its own, one as involving as your characters' struggles, discoveries, and triumphs are for you.

That's where
Paperback, 240 pages
Published December 30th 2016 by Writer's Digest Books
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Average rating 4.35  · 
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 ·  1,377 ratings  ·  256 reviews

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K.M. Weiland
Sep 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I wish I'd written this book myself if only so I could share every single chapter with my own readers. Because it's brilliant. More than just on-point writing instruction, this is an inspirational challenge calling all writers to be their best selves and write stories that, in turn, inspire and challenge readers in all the best ways. I wasn't expecting that from this book, but I was certainly inspired and challenged myself. Read it! ...more
Jon Ureña
Three and a half stars.

I got dozens of notes out of it, as usual, but this one didn't do it for me. Maybe the weakest of his that I've read. It irked me how dogmatic he was about what people want out of reading fiction, as part of the stated belief that pretty much every human being has an essentially compatible set of beliefs, which seems to me extraordinarily naïve.

He suggests not going to very dark places with your protagonists, because people don't want to read about characters in very pert
Vaughn Roycroft
Jan 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of the things I love about Donald Maass’s craft books is that he keeps taking it up a notch, keeps pushing boundaries. Which in turn continues to challenge his pupils. Although I firmly believe this book will help any writer who reads it, I feel like it found its way to my hands at the perfect point in my writing journey. It takes the craft of fiction beyond the basic mechanics of characterization and plot construction, and so I would advise brand new writers to perhaps start with Maass’s ea ...more
Jun 05, 2017 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one
Shelves: reviewed, dnf, writing
I accidentally deleted my review of this book and I've already returned it to the library, so I no longer have quotes to cite. This book went into the DNF pile. My main issues with the book included the following:

1. The author's snobbery - of the 'classics & literary fiction are better than all else' variety.

2. Annoyingly misogynistic or otherwise patronizing statements. The author clearly knows better, as each statement that could be taken as misogynistic or discriminatory is either prefaced wi
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
This is a provocative writing book. As always with these sorts of books, I think the best reaction is probably to take with you what’s useful and leave behind the rest after having given some consideration to it - if you're going to do something that's not generally advised, you want to be doing it deliberately, not thoughtlessly. And I think there’s a fair amount in here worthy of consideration, though it’s also sometimes less helpful than it could be, particularly when Maass devotes large port ...more
Liz Fenwick
Aug 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
There is so much in this short book. It is a book to revise a manuscript with, to take you through those scenes that are necessary but aren't working, to force you deeper in the go beyond your own fear as a writer. I need to reread and reread it repeatedly. ...more
Jan 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An Ultimate Guide for Writers

Donald Maass’s THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION: HOW TO WRITE THE STORY BENEATH THE SURFACE is the ultimate writer’s guide to telling a story. Set aside the countless books about plotting, structure, and craft and read this book before you go any further in imagining, drafting, and revising your stories. Throughout this pithy, important book, Maass instructs, demonstrates, motivates, and then gently pushes you out the door to write your story as only you can do. Read i
Sarah Davis
Apr 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
It feels like a lot of this is subjective: what engages the author, a literary agent, emotionally. This bothered me sometimes...who is this reader telling a fiction writer how to write? But I think the reader’s perspective isn’t talked about enough in craft, so I welcome this book’s unique point of view. At times it felt like there wasn’t enough here to fill a full book. Some of the segments were super short and consisted mainly of examples Maass feels are effective. However, there are a lot of ...more
Tasha Seegmiller
Jan 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is not big, but its depth is immeasurable. I allowed myself to be immersed completely in the lessons, taking in Maass' word of wisdom, considering my stories, and favorites written by others. Once again, Maass encourages and guides writers into a depth of story that many ignore but all will benefit from. It is a great study on how to write a story and ends with a call to writers that will inspire and encourage the creation of more words. Brilliant book. ...more
Melanie Hooyenga
Dec 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Keep a notebook handy, because you'll need it while reading this book. I read this while drafting a very complex — and emotional — novel, and every few pages I had ideas on how I could make my story better. Highly recommend! ...more
Feb 24, 2020 rated it did not like it
It's useless, patronizing, sexist, and simply comes at things from the wrong angle. Opens with a big essay trying to sell the readers into wanting to become apt at writing emotion, which is needless since readers already came to the book because they were sold into the idea to begin with. Then offers justification as to why the author wrote this book after having written a few others before. Dude, I don't care about your reasons to write it, this isn't a memoir. Just get on with the technical st ...more
Susan Haught
Jan 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: craft
Mr. Maass is one of my favorite craft authors. I connect with his teachings and love putting his suggestions into my work.

I took The Emotional Craft of Writing class prior to his releasing this book, and could not wait for it to be released. It's every bit as good as I expected.

If you're looking for a book on how to create characters who will resonate with readers on an emotional level, this is a fantastic resource. I'll be rereading it and going over my highlighted areas many times.
Jun 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Some good reminders in this book on hitting emotional targets in your writing. Maass is, as usual, pretty bang on & writes in an easy straightforward style. I recommend this one for your writing collection.
Jul 12, 2017 rated it liked it
This book was useful...for the most part. Some of the examples that were used didn't really work for me and didn't seem to fit what he was trying to illustrate. Others were perfect and actually evoked emotion in me (despite the fact that I've never read the books). The reason I purchased the book was because it contained exercises and those were pretty useful. My biggest issue with this book is that everything is heavily biased (which is the case with most writing advice). One person's preferenc ...more
Jill Hinton Wolfe
One of the best books on craft I've ever read

I cannot recommended literary agent/writer Maass enough - his work is the rare mix of inspiring & practical at the same time. If you're a fiction writer, you need to read this book, and deeply consider the questions he offers at the end of every section. But don't miss the last chapter! Of all the tools he gives you, his pep talk at the end makes you want to go out & change the world with your writing. (His other books are pretty phenomenal too, inclu
Tanya Gold
If you're looking for a book on how to make readers connect with your writing emotionally, I'd recommend Lisa Cron's Wired for Story over this. It covers the same basic concepts, but goes into much more depth. ...more
Apr 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the best writing book I have ever read, and all I can say is that every single fiction writer should read this. Your readers will thank you.
Jo LeGare
May 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: empty-shelf-2019
I thought I needed to take notes each chapter... and then realized the book itself is all the notes I need. So I read it, enjoyed the examples Maass gives, dissected my own writings, and came out feeling more confident a writer. Maass hits a topic that’s hard for me to articulate: the unworthiness of writing fiction compared to the greats. And yet, he says the best thing to offer is me. So I’ll do just that—confidently this time. Thanks, Maass! :)
Gabrielle Pollack
Apr 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Oh. My. Wow. This book was incredible. Personally, it really impressed upon me the beauty of storytelling and life in general. It's probably one of those craft books I'll end up reading over again.

Though I'd give a word of caution to any overly younger writers looking for a craft book to read (given some language and content), I really enjoyed it. *thumbs up*
Jordan Brown
Jan 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Very informative but also uplifting. I found myself underlining and dog earing pages that I wanted to return to. This will very soon become a well worn, folded and marked up tool to help me on my writing journeys.
Heather Myers
May 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Maas does it again. Thorough and informative, this book specifically focuses on crafting emotional fiction, with great examples and inspiring exercises. Highly recommend!
Patricia Faithfull
Dec 28, 2019 rated it did not like it
I have read a lot of books on craft, from both a prose and screenwriting standpoint, have taken (all the writers except for Joyce Carol Oats, who is a new addition) and done about 30% of tutorials on WD. I study hard. But this book on craft is one of my least favorite of all time. I will give you this reason up front, then provide a few more that are less visceral to me.
1. My biggest complaint is that there is a BLATANT and TRIGGERING example of CHILD SEX ABUSE – a text excerpt
Charlotte Burt
Nov 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
A really good writing craft book. It contains many practical techniques on how to stir emotion in a reader in a myriad of situations, most of which is going to be more useful on a rewrite for a pantster like me. I am sure I will refer to this time and again over the next few years.
Khristina Chess
Nov 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writer-s-craft
The Emotional Craft of Fiction is one of the best handbooks I've added to my shelves in a long time, and I will refer to it often as a checklist tool for my revision process. It feels like the missing toolbox that I've been seeking but didn't know how to request. The advice Maass offers is practical and insightful. I understand. So often with this type of book, the author gives page after page of example without telling me why it works or how to approach the problem with my own work. In contrast ...more
Mar 27, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: for-writers, writing
There are many good points in this book, and a lot of useful tools and exercises, but the author inserts himself in annoying ways (moreso, it seems, as the book progresses). He is too wordy and repetitive, sounds old fashioned (somewhat sexist, at minimum), and self-congratulatory. Those aspects can be grating. However, I still recommend this book. Just know that you have to look past all of that. As I've progressed further in the book I've skimmed over a lot of the examples. I don't find them p ...more
Amy Warren
This book spoke to the dissatisfaction I've had with a lot of books over the years. There has definitely been a trend toward constant action and terrible, dismal, oppressive worlds. While I find those books enjoyable and sometimes un-put-down-able, they're not books I re-read or worlds I want to revisit. Maass' latest book makes the point that there are other ways to create tension on the page than constant physical danger and oppression.

Maass' final point in this book is that while yes, reader
Emily Ver Steeg
May 28, 2018 rated it did not like it
I only got 50 pages in and I couldn’t bring myself to read any further. Not only is this book not well-written, it also doesn’t contribute anything new to the craft of writing fiction. The advice is so general and common-knowledge, that the author almost doesn’t SAY anything. And when he does say things, they’re almost laughably misleading. For example, he insists that characters should have redeeming qualities for readers to have an emotional attachment to the story—that characters should contr ...more
Aug 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A number of reviews about this book pretty much encapsulate my views. Liz Fenwick said, “… it is a book to revise a manuscript with … I need to reread it … repeatedly.” Jill Hinton said, “One of the best books on craft I’ve ever read.” As an emerging writer, I couldn’t agree more. This book is a treasure chest for dipping into often and deeply. The techniques Maass talks about are not things I remember being taught at university or creative writing class, and he has a gift for lucid explanations ...more
Cora Foerstner
Dec 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I just finished rereading this book and changed my rating from four to five stars. I think I’ve read every writing book Donald Maass has written. I recommend his books to anyone who is serious about the craft of writing fiction. This one I’d put at the top of my list of recommendations.

His ideas about the emotional aspect of writing fiction stuck in my mind and lead me to almost immediately open the book and start again. This book is about more than adding emotion to your story; it’s about the
Jennifer Murray
It took me over a year to finish this whole book. Although I think it offers valuable insights and some great prompts and exercises, it really just goes on forever. There is also a point with it that I got tired of the monotony of the rhythm-- each chapter has the same format with a different focus. It just gets old after awhile. I also hotly didn't agree with some of his assertions that were a bit moralistic about writing. Although my own writing follows these guides, I'm not sure that all "goo ...more
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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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“The first task in building a compelling story world is to create hope.” 2 likes
“Why is it important to look at fiction writing through the lens of emotional experience? Because that’s the way readers read. They don’t so much read as respond. They do not automatically adopt your outlook and outrage. They formulate their own. You are not the author of what readers feel, just the provocateur of those feelings. You may curate your characters’ experiences and put them on display, but the exhibit’s meaning is different in thousands of ways for thousands of different museum visitors, your readers. Not” 1 likes
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