Wednesday, September 26, 2012

BREAKOUT Notes - Part 1

I recently returned from the most amazing workshop - The Breakout Novel Intensive V2.0. It's put on by Free Expressions and literary agent Donald Maass. If you aren't familiar with his books on craft get your hands on at least one of them pronto! My autographed copy of his newest, Writing 21st Century Fiction, is sitting on my desk as I write this post. 

It was an overwhelming, exhilarating, roller coaster of a week and more than a few meltdowns were had - and not just by me, thank you very much. My only regret is that I didn't attend one of these conferences earlier in my career.

I'm drowning in notes and critiques and recorded one-on-one sessions with Donald Maass and the editors from Free Expressions, and I don't really know where to begin regarding sharing some of what I learned. So, I think I'll start with the part that really made the whole conference experience worth it for me . . . 

How to write more fearlessly, more boldly.

Now, I know some of you don't have this problem. But I do. I tone down scenes, I tame moments. I'm afraid - for some reason - to let the story go where it wants to go. I rein it in, hold it back. I've known it for awhile but I didn't know exactly how to fix it. Until now.

Imagine there's a more fearless writer than you and he/she becomes your mentor. He/She says "This is what I'd do in your story . . . " What is it? Do that thing!

What's a line you won't cross in your novel? A word you won't use? A feeling that's too ugly or too sweet?

What's one ironclad rule of the genre you're writing in? Write it down. Now do this - BREAK IT. Readers bring expectations to every story so if we want to shake them up a bit, then we need to find a way to break a rule or two. Do the rules really need to be rules?



  1. Be a rebel!
    Lines I won't cross? Foul language besides 'damn.' And sex scenes. Not a chance...

  2. I hold back sometimes. I don't know why, I just do. This is wonderful and a great reminder to step back and let the story go where it wants to and not be afraid to follow along.

  3. Alex - one suggestion would be to try and write those scenes anyway, just as an exercise and not necessarily to include in the final draft, to see where they would or could take you and the story...

    Emily - you're very welcome! I so know what you mean and it was a true "aha" moment for me.

  4. This sounds great, Madeline. Every time I send Maass a manuscript, his form letter says my novels need more line-by-line tension -- so that's what I'm working on. Maybe someday I'll be fearless. =]

  5. How wonderful you were able to attend! I was at a one-day presentation by Donald Maass earlier this year, and he is amazing!

  6. Milo - ah, that's called "micro-tension" and he talks about it in both FIRE IN THE FICTION and in his new one, WRITING 21ST CENTURY FICTION.

    Becky - I know someone else who went to a one day one and had a great time, too. :)

  7. Pretty sure EL James was fearless when she wrote the Fifty Shades trilogy. LOL I don't think my problem is being fearless---I think my problem is, I'm just not a writer.

  8. Pam - ha ha! :) And I've read your blog posts - you're a writer.

  9. You make it sound SO EXCITING! Yes to being fearless!!!!
    -Cathy in Muskoka
    P.S. Alex, don't be such a wuss.... ;)

  10. Thanks for sharing your notes. Lots of helpful stuff.

    One member of our critique group once wrote on my manuscript "take your gloves off." His penmanship wasn't very clear, and I thought he wrote "take your clothes off." While I will take my gloves off to become a more fearless writer, one line I won't cross is taking my clothes off while writing.;-)

  11. Cathy - I'm glad the excitement came across! :)

    Donna - oh, that was too funny! That gives a whole new meaning to the idea of baring all in your writing. :)

  12. i dont like cursing, and i dont like making my mc curse, but he does anyway. i think i am pretty tame too. i will check the boldness on my next edit! thanks!

  13. Tara - my characters say and do things I wouldn't necessarily - and vice versa. :) But I don't think being bold is about the gross out factor or shock value - it's more about pushing our characters and ourselves to another level, whatever that level may be.

  14. You have such an inspirational blog! So glad I discovered it through the EDF site! I love checking in here.


  15. Izzy - I'm glad you enjoy it here at TSR! Please come back often. :)