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.