Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Challenge of Inner Change

A good writer's manual is worth every penny if it actually helps you become a better writer. I've featured several of them here on my blog, one of which is: Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maas. If you don't own a copy, let me add that Mr. Maass isn't a top North American agent for nothing.

Choosing a random chapter this week I opened the book to Inner Change. Good choice. I'm nearing the end of the second draft of my WIP: Omatiwak: Woman Who Cries, the sequel to Broken But Not Dead. Mr. Maass writes that if I show my two main protagonists Sally Warner, wife of the murder victim, and Corporal Danny Killian, widower and investigator in charge of the case, grow and change, I increase the odds of producing the breakout novel. Good point. So, how do I do that? More importantly how do you?

Here's a snippet of what Donald Maass thinks will work:

1. Find an early scene when your protagonist is talking to a main character.
2. Write a paragraph on how s/he sees that particular character.
3. Move forward in the story and show how s/he see this same character (or place) differently.

Mr. Maass goes on to say that inner change weaved through the plot strengthens the structure and appeal of the story. He says to ask yourself these questions: How does your protagonist see himself change through the story? How do other characters see him? What changes occur?

As in life, everyone changes.

Remember the 1967 blockbuster To Sir With Love? If you were asked today why you think that movie is a classic, what would you say? That its appeal is due to idealistic teacher Mark Thackeray's (Sidney Poitier) experience and affect on a bunch of rambunctious white students from the slums of London's East End? The changes in how his students see him and how Thackeray sees himself  are what drives the story.

What about the growth and change of Tom Hank's character in Cast Away?
Or Nick Carraway's vision of Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby? Can you write a paragraph on how these characters changed?

I'd like to recommend another classic. Rent a copy of On The Waterfront to see how Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) starts off as a washed out fighter and envolves into one of cinema's most endearing heroes.

Great writing is about recognizing what makes great storytelling.

--happy editing


  1. Thanks for sharing this. I've been thinking about picking this book up. You've convinced me!

    To Sir With Love was one of my Mom's favorite films. She passed away last spring. I think I need to get a copy of that too.

    Have a good week,

  2. My mother's been gone 10 years and I still miss her dearly. I'm sorry for your loss, Karen. I do remember you mentioning her passing. It doesn't seem like a year already.

    I think you'll enjoy WTBN. I sure am.

  3. Thanks for this post, Joylene. I have both the book & workbook -- both so helpful! I think it's time to pull out the workbook again....

  4. I think I'm going to have to call my local bookstore and have them order in a copy... Thanks for posting. I remember you having mentioned this book before. It sounds really good!

  5. Hi Shari and Laura. I enjoyed the workbook so much that I ordered it in book form too. Two good decisions. Donald Maass has a great reputation and has attended the Surrey writer's conference a few times. The reviews were very good. Hopefully he'll be there this time too, and Carol will get a chance to meet him for me. LOL.

  6. I love these blogs that you post on writing. Keep posting them, Joylene. You're helping a lot of writers, I'm sure. Especially me.

  7. Thanks, Helena. I love it when writers say that. Have a great week. I'll try to post more exercises from Donald's workbook.

  8. "As in life, everyone changes." So true! We talk about the necessity of character arcs in our stories, but Don Maass has a way of clarifying what that actually means.

    Unfortunately my appointment with him at the Surrey Conference has had to be changed as he and his wife, Lisa Rector, aren't able to attend after all. They are adopting a baby boy from Ethiopia and their court date in Ethiopia conflicts with the conference. ::sigh:: But I'm content with the alternate arrangements. I'll be seeing another agent from the Maass Agency in place of Don, and then instead of my appointment with Lisa I'll be seeing James Scott Bell. That excites me.

    I'm currently reading Maass's "Fire in Fiction" and also have Bell's "The Art of War for Writers" so will be devouring them both before conference time!

  9. OH CAROL!!! I'm so jealous! James Scott Bell! That is very exciting. Bravo. Too bad about the "Don".

  10. It IS exciting, but it also makes me a little weak in the knees! I'm going to have to do mega psyching to get past the intimidation.

  11. Hi Joylene,
    My apologies for not responding to this posting at an earlier time. Now then, you must keep this a secret. Yet again, this dude, yes dude, has been multi-tasking.
    I also think that it's tremendous that you post up all these writing tips and recommendations. I'm very sure that those pursuing a writing career will find your information of great value.
    'To Sir, With Love'. I recall that 'Lulu' sang the theme tune to that wonderful film.
    I'm currently reading 'Dr Suess' book titled, 'Green Eggs and Ham'.
    Have a great weekend. I'm just off to see which way my toilet paper has been put on.
    With respect, Gary :-)

  12. No apology necessary, Gary. Your continual support is awesome and much appreciated. Have a safe weekend.

  13. I love your blog!!
    Thought you might be interested in mine. I have a collaborative blog - About growing up, beginnings in general, told in a variety of formats (literary, nonfiction, fiction, poetry, new media). Let me know what you think :)
    Would love if you'd contribute! let me know..

  14. Hi Jessica. Of course I'm interested. In fact, I'd love to showcase your blog here. You have a fascinating bunch of contributors. I finally had to tear myself away and force myself to get back to work. Say hello to everyone back there in chilly New Brunswick. A special hug for my daughter-in-law who is once again alone while my son's off teaching recruits in Quebec.

    If you're interested in anything specific, Jessica, email me at anytime.

  15. Carol, if you need me to hold your hand just holler. I would LOVE to attend the conference with you. You don't have an extra large suitcase by any chance?


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