Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass – Review

Considering it's a book about enthusing your novels with passion and ensuring readers don’t start skimming, I found it quiet lacklustre and started to skim through it by the end.

The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great is the full title of Donald Maass’ latest book on the craft of writing. Given that he runs a successful Literary Agency you’d expect him to have some worthwhile insights, and if you’ve read his first book: Writing the Breakout Novel, you’ll know he does.

I enjoyed How to Write the Breakout novel, got a lot out of it. Read it twice, will read it to write a review. So I was looking forward to Fire in Fiction, but found it very uninspiring in comparison. I’d go as far to say it felt lazy, a quickly thrown together earner.

The main problem is the novel excerpts. Using excerpts from a novels is a great way to elucidate on a point of craft, analyze what’s happening, give you something to think about, and work with. Great. Only you’re never more than a few paragraphs from the next excerpt. The insights Maass provides are okay. Nothing as good as his Writing the Breakout Novel, though.

Here’s how it goes: each chapter will have a general theme like: Chapter 4 – The World of the Novel, and is broken up into sub-themes such as . . . Linking Details and Emotion, Measuring Change Over Time, History is Personal, etc. Then each sub-theme starts with a few paragraphs by Maass, an excerpt from a novel, a few paragraphs by mass, next sub-theme heading, a few paragraphs by Maass, an excerpt,  a few paragraphs, and on, and on. There’s a section of writing exercise based on the theme, at the end of each chapter. It’s very samey, and it felt like Maass has just padded the whole thing out with snippets from novels to up the page count.

By the end I admit I started skimming the prose examples and just read Maass bits that bookended them. Then I just started skimming it all. It all felt very half hearted, and I didn’t feel like I was learning much. Worse; I felt like I wasting valuable reading time. Considering it’s a book about enthusing your novels with passion and ensuring readers don’t start skimming, I found it quiet lacklustre and started to skim through it by the end.

All the excerpts are well chosen. All the discussion before and after them is well considered. It just felt like a relentless treadmill of random novel excerpts. I was disappointed. I expected good things after Maass’ first writing book.

Obviously this is my opinion, and judging by the horde of 5 star reviews it’s picked up on Amazon it’s a minority opinion, but I honestly felt, especially when compared to his first book on writing, that Maass was just phoning it for this one. Read it if you have time on your hands and can borrow a copy, but there are a better books out there.


Anne E. Johnson said...

Thanks for the warning. Think I'll skip this one. As you say, there are better books out there.

Lee Reynoldson said...

You're welcome Anne. I'm still not 100% sure if it's really bad, or just doesn't compare that well to 'Writing the Breakout Novel', but it felt quite weak and lazy to me.

ralfast said...

Sounds like somebody tried to reinvent the wheel and broke it in the process. Good to know.

Oh and Happy 2012!

Lee Reynoldson said...

Hey, ralfast. Happy New Year! How's it going?

ralfast said...

Going well. Got back into playing Magic: The Gathering (looky my money is blowing away in the wind!) and back into writing serials. Deep into post-Roman Britain, Welsh history, Druids, and the Arthurian Romances.

Oh and started a new WiP in a genre I like to call Renaissance Fantasy.

Lee Reynoldson said...

I've never actually played M:tG or any CCG for that matter. I'd prolly like it, aprat from the whole money blowing away aspect. I'm pretty sure one of my all time fav RPG artists - Liz Danforth - has done some M:tG cards.

Is your serial Arthurian, or are those two different projects?

I'm working on an Arthurian tale at the mo (planing stage) it's possible the 1st of a series about Peredur's Grail quest.

Renaissance Fantasy sounds good, All those warring city states, and powerful families are ripe with story hooks to start with, and it's an era that has been so heavily mined as medival fantasy. What are the fantasy elemennts you're using?

ralfast said...

Yes, the money problem....:D

Severus the Rogue is sort of a Arthurian Prequel while the the current Ambrocious (sp?)the Warlord has stronger ties to it, as does Wizards' World War Season 2 (just sent the heroine off to search for Avalon, doesn't get more Arthurian than that!).

Fantasy elements? Magical weapons and armor (unique to the user/crafter) magic potions, ancient god of creation/destruction (father/son duality ripped from Gnosticism) and some other stuff. Early rough first draft.

Misha Gericke said...

Thanks for the heads-up. I'll wait for it to get into my local library. :-)

Lee Reynoldson said...

You're welccome, Misha. His first book 'Writing the Breakout Novel' is worth getting if you haven't already read it.