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

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  1,625 ratings  ·  175 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Something similar is true of a great many unpublished manuscripts.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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May 24, 2011 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,
Anonymous-9 Anonymous-9
Oct 28, 2012 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
Sep 11, 2012 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
Jan 17, 2010 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 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
As aspiring writer one can feel overwhelmed with the amount of available books about how to become a successful writer. The true is : there is no magical recipe and after a few readings about the matter, you are going to realize the best way to start to write your own fiction is reading the masters and also a few non memorable writers (is always useful to have examples about how not to write). The challenge here is to identify how those writers achieve the pages we enjoy and admire.

The fire in
Sammy Sutton
Nov 29, 2011 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
Dean Fox
Jul 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
Like virtually all of the Donald Maass books on writing I've read, I've left highlighted notes throughout this one for future reference. I highly recommend his books.
Margo Berendsen
Jun 10, 2010 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
Conrad Zero
Aug 12, 2013 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.
Oct 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
I liked this one a lot more than Writing the Breakout Novel (it's more up to date for one thing, but still ten years old) but it wasn't life-changing. As in his earlier book, Maass gives us a lot of examples around 1-2 pages long, and asks us to observe certain characteristics about those extracts that work for him--the problem is, they don't always work for me! Probably because I haven't read the rest of the novel. This is exactly the issue that dogs much teaching of writing; if you really want ...more
Elaine Cunningham
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I often find it helpful to read a book about craft of writing when I'm in the middle of a project. This book was just what I needed at this point it time; it helped me articulate the core idea/value/takeaway in my novel-in-progress.

Highly recommended!
Kimberly Sabatini
May 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: craft-of-writing
Another FABULOUS craft book by Donald Maass--sit back and wait for the next one because I'm obsessed with his view of writing and publishing. <3 ...more
Heather Myers
Feb 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Exemplary as usual

This is an amazing book on the art of creating fiction. A great read. Every writer should have this book in their catalogue. Thank you for writing!
Ava Jae
Aug 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Writers
Shelves: writing
I’ll admit that I caved into buying this one because it was one of those books I suspected I should read and never really got around to picking up, but now Borders is going out of business and I figured well, what better time than now? So I bought it. And I read the first chapter. And I had a serious facepalm Why-did-I-wait-so-absurdly-long-to-read-this-book?-moment.

I mean it when I say my only regret was not reading The Fire in Fiction sooner. The advice is fantastic and the exercises at the e
Apr 11, 2014 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 05, 2013 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
Feb 24, 2013 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.
Anna Serra i Vidal
Sep 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: about-writing
This is a keeper. And a sure reread. It's important to read Don Maass before writing a story, while writing it and while working on rewrites. And yet again, when you think your story is ready for submission to give it another pass.
Then, maybe, your story is ready to go on the big world and start submitting.

I specially love the different exercises that he offers at the end of the chapters. This helps me enhance and think about ways to make the story better and tighter.
Sheri Fresonke Harper
Aug 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing-books
The opening pages really incite you to get started improving your writing. I've encountered most of the improvements since I started writing before, but the examples from popular writers are very helpful. What I like best is the exercises throughout where you can check your work and also think about where you are in a given work.
Oct 25, 2015 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.
Jeff Stautz
Oct 01, 2017 rated it it was ok
A few decent sections highlighting what Maas calls "microtension," but the rest of the book lacks substance. Loaded down by hundreds of examples (some of them not even very good) that barely help explain the topic. Horribly edited/proofread as well, with some hilariously bad typos. Don't bother.
Jun 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This stays on my shelf to pull out over and over again. Definitely a book that a writer needs.
Jan 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Fire in Fiction is a pretty standard book of writing instruction. I think what Maass brings to the table is a focus on revision and a plethora of examples from various novels.

In terms of the revision aspect, this book is geared toward those who have already completed manuscripts. The exercises call upon readers to pull from their finished manuscripts and revise scenes, or suggest types of drafts an author might do. For instance, Maass suggests doing a draft solely focused on revising the fi
J.L. Dobias
May 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: shelf-004
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
Debra Daniels-zeller
Mar 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, writing
I liked this book from the section called Status Seekers and Storytellers in the Introduction. While Status Seekers want the most lucrative contract and support for promotion, for storytellers the best promotion is between the covers of their last book. In other words spend the time writing the best book you can. The division of chapters in this book starts with the usual: protagonists and heroes, building characters, the elements of scene, the world of the novel, giving characters voice, making ...more
Koen Wellens
Feb 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, non-fiction
You can see that Donald Maass knows what he talks about. He’s reviewed many manuscripts and quotes a lot of books in this masterpiece. He tries to teach you good techniques by showing how other authors use them. Each chapter has bonus exercises that you can use to improve your own work.

Fun fact: Donald Maass quotes Jim Butcher, John Scalzi and other writers that I’m a fan of. He points out why I like their books, even though I implicitly knew it. Now I know explicitly.

Read the full review at my
Rodrigo Nemmen
Oct 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book guides you through many strategies for writing a novel. Focus is given on an important issue: how to keep the reader interested. Many practical exercises on character and story building are included at the end of each chapter. If you are writing a novel, this will teach some of the tricks of the trade. Even you are writing nonfiction, this book should give you some valuable advice.

My only criticism is really with the kindle version of the book. I think it was barely revised after port
Sharon Hughson
Feb 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
It took a LONG time to get through this book. Not because there were so many exercises to help me improve my writing (there were, but I didn’t do them). The voice and style just didn’t speak to me.
In the end, the message from this famous agent and writing teacher: “To your own voice and message be true.”
Which has me off on a journaling quest to determine a fresh way to share what’s important to me with readers.
Lee Swift
May 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the best on writing books I've ever read. If the author wasnt a reputed agent for many many years, then this might have only got 4 stars because in the last couple of chapters, the examples shown were not as concrete an illustration of the point being made and felt like you could pick any piece of work and say what you wanted it to. As it happens, I'm willing to go with what they say so five stars it is
Jul 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What I enjoyed most about this book was how easy it was to read. There's practical advice aplenty, and there are many helpful exercises to help authors write a more successful book. Having said that, I should mention that I haven't actually sold a book, so it's more a feeling that the suggestions just make sense to me. Regardless, it was entertaining enough to not leave me feeling like I had wasted my time.
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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.

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