Thursday, January 28, 2010


In the next several months, I'm doing the exercises from Donald Maas's book Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook here on my blog. I'm convinced that these exercises will help me put some spark back into my manuscript Omatiwak: Woman Who Cries, thus helping me improve upon Broken But Not Dead with my editor Leanne Kruger. I hope you'll join along and apply these exercises to your own work. If you do, let me know how your progress is going. Maybe we can help each other.

Exercise One deals with adding heroic attributes to your characters. (I'm paraphrasing because I don't yet have permission to quote Mr. Maass from his workbook) We all know that our protagonist must grow into an admirable character by the end of our story; but Mr. Maass suggests adding heroic qualities at the beginning. Sure, our protagonist will build toward heroic proportions by the end of our story, but what about the beginning? Shouldn't s/he be someone our readers immediately admire?

Here's how Mr. Maass suggests we do that:

1. Write down the name of someone you consider a hero.
2. Write down as many qualities or actions befitting your personal hero. Qualities or actions that speak of their generosity, courage, determination, strength to overcome adversity, or simple kindness and thoughtfulness towards others. 
3, Apply those qualities to your protagonist by  opening your story with your protagonist acting out one or some of those qualities so that your reader will instantly recognize his/her heroic attributes.
4. Look for 6 more scenes throughout your story where you can show your character acting or thinking in heroic ways.

Donald Maass reads thousands of manuscripts. What he's suggesting in this first exercise is aimed at helping us get our manuscript through the initial first reading to the acceptance pile.

Think Harry Potter, Clarice Starling, Billy Elliot, Dorian Grey, Will Graham, Charlie Brown, Jason Bourne, Jack Carter, Scarlet Ohara, Oliver Twist, Jesus Christ, to name a few.

After I read and gave this first exercise plenty of thought, I realized the introduction of my protagonist RCMP Corporal Danny Killian was anything but memorable. Danny shows up at the crime scene to begin his investigation. Whoopie. To step things up and introduce my reader to a nice guy, worthy of their time, I took that opening and went one step deeper: I showed ...

Danny parks outside the door of the scene of the crime, but instead of immediately going inside, sits for a moment to face his grief and regain the mindset. He's more than normally distraught over the death of his wife because it's their seventh anniversary. He grieves for her, mourns the circumstances of her death, acknowledges that this grief may never cease, then sets it aside and goes inside.

It's a little more elaborate than that, but I hope you get my drift. Now, try this exercise yourself and let me now how it went.

Happy Writing.


  1. I ran into the same problem. My book, Street Smart, opens with the MC aiming a gun at a man's nuts. Crazy person, right? Well, it seems that way at first then a few lines down we find out the MC is a PI chasing down a dead-beat dad to collect child support for his ex-wife and baby.
    Thanks for the article!

  2. Ooh, I think I'm gonna love this series of blogs you're starting here, Joylene! I haven't read Mr. Maas's book yet, but it's on my wish list...sooner rather than later, I think!

    And I have to comment on your profile info -- wow. Small world. I'm actually from Prince George, can you believe it? I was there for 18 years, leaving in 1987 to follow my husband (an RCMP officer) out east to Ottawa. I know Vanderhoof well -- we used to pick shaggy mane mushrooms along the highway there, and my parents fished in Cluculz Lake. And an even smaller world: you were an emergency responder, I was a dispatcher for the RCMP.

    I am so going to pick up your books! :)


  3. This is one blog I'm going to keep my eye on. I have Maas's book that she's referencing here, and have started to go through it, but got sidetracked. Sounds like I need to pull it out for a second look.

  4. @Ginger, you're very welcomed. Stop by again anytime. Thanks for the comment.

    @Linda! That is so amazing. We're practically related! LOL. I'm glad to meet you. Thanks for the comment.

    @Katie, like you'd have time. Gads, you're so busy it makes my head spin. Your blogs are fascinating. You do good work and it shows. Stop by anytime.

  5. Good article on Donald Maas's book, Writing the Breakout Novel Workout. It sounds like one I should have on the shelf.

    I've just started yet another edit of my third book and I feel I can definitely use that exercise and information on how to get a better start.

  6. I have Don Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel, but don't own the workbook. He packs so much good information between the covers that I've needed to read it more than once. Sounds like I should get the workbook, too. I'll be following your series with much interest.

  7. @Carole, I'm with you. If there's yet one more book out there that will help me become a better writer, then bring it on.

    @Carol, I'm reading through Mr. Maass' workbook more than once too. I didn't get the paperback, but am thinking of ordering it now. I think it would be a great addition to the workbook. Thanks for following.

  8. I own his book, and the workbook. I must also say that his new book-- The Fire in Fiction, is also a def must read.

    Nice application of the first principle of the Breakout novel. I am looking forward to reading more on your blog.

  9. Welcome, Naield. Thanks for stopping by, and for mentioning FIF; I'll check it out. And come back anytime.

  10. I am glad that I found your blog. the posts have been interesting and thought-provoking as well as helpful. Blessings,
    ann :o )

  11. And I'm thrilled you stopped by, Anne. Blessings to you, too!


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