Tuesday, April 30, 2013

21st Century Fiction

I read an interesting book lately, Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling by Donald Maass (Writer's Digest Books, 2012). Maass' premise is fiction is changing in our new century; to be successful novels must be high impact. Maass says, High impact comes from a combination of two factors: great stories and beautiful writing. High-impact novels utilize what is best about literary and commercial fiction. They embrace a dichotomy. They do everything well and as a result sell astoundingly. The publishing industry has a convenient term for these wonder books: literary/commercial fiction. Wow! That's a tall order!

On the one hand, literary novelists "create art" and "treasure fine writing and seek to capture the world the way it is..." On the other hand, commercial novelists "want to spin stories that delight readers" and "thrill, scare, and stir through a mastery of craft." Maass claims to give techniques to utilize methods of both literary and commercial fiction.
Chapter topics are:

  • 21st Century Fiction
  • The Death of Genre
  • The Inner Journey
  • The Outer Journey
  • Standout Characters
  • The Three Levels of Story
  • Beautifully Written
  • The 21st Century Novelist
  • The Elements of Awe

As I've discussed here before, books are a collaboration between writer and reader, so your take-aways will differ from my take-aways. Some ideas I gleaned include: characters need to have a deep and true emotional landscape and plots need to be unpredictable. The four levels of story are: plot, scene, micro-tension, and art ("the way in which the author unfolds his intentions").

Perhaps the most surprising thing to me was Maass' discussion of beautiful writing. He says, "..beautifully written isn't just about imagery." And, "Beautiful writing is more than pretty prose. It creates resonance in readers' minds with parallels, reversals, and symbols. ...It engages the reader's mind with an urgent point, which we might call theme." Interesting. I'll have to ponder all this for a while.

If you're trying to improve your writing, I recommend this book.

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