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The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface

4.45  ·  Rating details ·  713 ratings  ·  141 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 wher
ebook, 218 pages
Published December 30th 2016 by Writers Digest Books
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4.45  · 
Rating details
 ·  713 ratings  ·  141 reviews

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Vaughn Roycroft
Jan 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jun 05, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
Shelves: dnf, reviewed, 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 preface
Liz Fenwick
Aug 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Susan Haught
Jan 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Gabrielle Pollack
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*
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!
Tasha Seegmiller
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.
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
Melanie Hooyenga
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!
Aug 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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 to
Aug 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-on-writing
I found I could not read this book without a highlighter in hand! So many "a-ha" moments for me and this is a book I will be re-reading anytime I feel stuck, anytime I'm starting a new book, anytime I'm working on revisions. I can't say enough good things as I fully believe this book is helping me grow as a writer! If you write, you need to read this book! :)
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.
Mar 27, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing, for-writers
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
Stephanie Bibb
The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass came with several recommendations, so I was excited to finally get a chance to read this book. Unfortunately, I didn’t like this book as much as I thought I would. That might be because I was hearing quite a bit of hype about the book, so I may have set my expectations too high.

That being said, The Emotional Craft of Fiction still contained useful information, which I think will be helpful in writing characters and making stories more satisfying to
Elora   Cook
Dec 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Let's just say I finished this for my sanity's sake. The Goodreads Challenge was way too much for me this year. From what I've read so far in this book though, it's been so insightful and already making me consider my characters and their scenes differently. Can't wait to see what else there is to learn.
Augustin Erba
Sep 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Practical advice

This is a very long (and useful) check-list where each item is separated with personal anecdotes and many examples from modern writing. If you've written a novel and you (or your editor) is unhappy with it, there are many healthy suggestions on how to identify what is missing in this book.
Kayla Perisho
Jul 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent resource for writers wanting to infuse their novels with more effective emotions. This book clearly and articulately explains how you can use various techniques to create an emotional response in your readers.
Jennifer Worrell
Took out from the library; had to return it before I was finished. Looked so great I'm going to buy a copy instead. Deets later.
A very interesting and applicable writing craft book. I'd recommend this to anyone who writes fiction.
Apr 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book for anyone who writes fiction, with questions and exercises. Sums up why some stories grab us and others don't - regardless of plot. Highly recommend.
Sep 18, 2018 is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
I can't believe I didn't know about this book sooner! So much information, I think this is the only book I have ever marked up!
Jun 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, writing
This was excellent. I read it at the perfect time--right as I am diving into revising to fix the emotional flatness in my novel--and this was very helpful in both understanding why various things aren't working in my book, and how to deepen the emotional experience of the reader. Also very easy to read. I didn't agree with everything Maass wrote (Bella Swan is NOT an awesome example of anything positive, imho), but I definitely will be making use of the many writing exercises to make my scenes m ...more
Heather James
Feb 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Insightful and helpful. It has given me so many ideas to help improve my writing.
Amy Vitt
Jan 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a birthday present from my mother, who dares to support my fever dream of writing a book. I didn't realize that it was only released a few weeks ago, so I suppose a review is in order! This is a beautifully composed manifesto of why writers feel compelled to write. It's also a plea for more genuine emotional content from aspiring authors. If I have a complaint, it's that the actual writing advice within tends to be far more ideological than practical. But I still appreciate the way Maas ...more
Boze Herrington
Jul 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Helpful instructions on the emotional craft of writing

Writing emotional characters isn't the same as writing emotionally gripping stories. Beginning with this premise, Maas helpfully explains how to construct narratives that trigger our empathy, fear, anger, curiosity and compassion, with examples drawn from Stephen King, Harper Lee and others.
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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.
“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
“To see how differently folks experience a work of fiction, check their comments on Goodreads. Are those people all reading the same novel?” 0 likes
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