Donald Maass’ WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL is a compendium of advice honed from Maass’ 30 plus years as an agent. This book is designed to help the novelist at any stage of her career write a breakout novel, by which Maass means a novel that gets onto the bestseller lists.

Even though this is a book written by a successful agent, it doesn’t feel like it. It feels like a book written for writers by a writer. Organized into eleven chapters, nine of those chapters are solid advice on craft. And the advice is intelligent and thoughtful. In a random flip through the book, I discovered this gem about the psychology of story telling:

“When an author pitches a great story premise, almost always the first question that spring to my mind (and I will bet to yours, too) is this: Could that really happen? It is an odd question. Fiction is not life. And yet for some reason most readers, me included, need to feel that the story we are being presented has some basis in reality. Why? The answer to that question lies in part in the psychology of storytelling, or rather story receiving. A work of fiction grips our imaginations because we care, both about the characters in the tale and about ourselves. To put it another way, we are concerned about the outcome of the story because what is happening to the characters could happen to us.”

This book is full of such gems. The best endorsement I can give of it is that my copy bristles with post-it flags. If you are a writer, or even an aspiring one, buy this book. Five stars.

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