Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Poking holes

I recently finished reading agent Donald Maass' writing how-to book, The Fire in Fiction. His challenging, even combative tone put me off at times, and worse, sometimes I truly couldn't figure out what he was trying to show in his numerous fiction excerpts. Perhaps I'm just not a devoted thriller reader (which made up the majority of his examples). But all that said, Maass' book has some excellent, thought-provoking exercises that still made it a worthwhile read.

And in Maass' chapter "Making the Impossible Real," I discovered one of my favorite exercises ever:

"List twenty reasons why in the real world this event would not occur. Who prevents it? Who stops it?"

Twenty reasons is a LOT of reasons. But when I gave the Doubting Thomas portion of my mind free reign, it was rather easy to question everything. Wouldn't the girl's parents call a lawyer? Wouldn't that boy be afraid the police would get involved? Surely this highly sophisticated businessman realizes his actions are illegal. Would he really push the situation that far?

My stories usually begin with a single scene, and I extrapolate from this scene who my characters are, how they got there, where they'll go from here. It's a difficult thing to step back and say, "Wait, would that scene even happen like that?"

It's downright upsetting, actually, stomach ache inducing. But of course, Maass' follow-up question invites the writer to figure out why the event, or some slightly different version of it, actually does happen. Rather than patching together explanations after the fact, I love that I'm starting my new story by poking holes in it, questioning everything, and making sure all my answers are believable (if not 100% plausible!).

It's a new frame of mind for me, but one I'm definitely packing front and center in my writer toolbox. 

Have you discovered any good writing how-to books or exercises lately?

6 comments:

  1. I have one beta reader who is superb at pointing these holes. Priceless.
    Not to disparage Maass' exercise, I think twenty reasons why a scene could not have happened are seventeen too many... it becomes a distraction. I would lose my concentration on which are the crucial ones.

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    1. Ohhh, a very useful quality in a beta reader, indeed!
      I found my twenty ideas piled on top of each other, elucidating a few character and plot problems... but I can see what you mean. Thankfully we're allowed to tweak these exercises for our own benefit, otherwise what would be the point?!

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  2. I'd love to read this. I have a few writing books on my Kindle, but I haven't read them yet. I'd like to read more resource books.

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    1. I have the same problem, Medeia. I find craft books so useful, but they do take a me a long time if I go through them properly. If it helps any, I found Fire in Fiction very skimmable! ;) The exercises are excellent, but sometimes Maass gets a little long-winded.

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  3. I loved this book. Although, I have to admit, I did not do all of the exercises. I took tons of notes, and I know it's one I should probably buy so I don't feel rushed to get it back to the library.

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    1. It is one I'm glad to have in my personal library. It does take so much time to work through some of these craft books, though.

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