This is where I think I got my money’s worth out of Writing the Breakout Novel. When Donald Maass did a deep dive into plot, I felt like I finally started to understand how a novel works; what really moves it forward.

Plot equals organization. That was my first take away and it makes complete sense. Most people enjoy linear storytelling (I do) and this is where plot is most effective. By providing structure to a story it allows the reader to play along at home (so-to-speak). Readers have a map of where they started and where they’re going. Now, the literary fiction crowd might find plot too simplistic but the average reader craves organization. I know, it’s a blanket statement but anyone who’s not sure should look at the books on their shelf to decide if it’s an accurate statement.

Maass goes into the elements of plot which are the sympathetic character, conflict, complications, climax, and resolution. I’m not going to dig into these elements but would like to focus on the sympathetic character element. My last post on characters hit on this. Sympathy goes a long way when it comes to a reader connecting with a character. As I’m developing my next project, sympathy is in the back of mind. How can I create a main character that readers can relate to and feel for? This connection will allow readers to root for the character and invest themselves to a whole book. Without this vital element it’s tough to read on.

One of the other takeaways on plot is that high stakes, complex characters, and layered conflict result in breakout fiction. This is what separates the wannabes from the professionals. Constantly raising the stakes in a story with characters that aren’t vanilla in multi layer conflicts breaks open an engaging story. I finished The 39 Steps by John Buchan recently and this book was written all the back in 1915 and was able to hit those breakout marks. Buchan put his main character thru the ringer and constantly tries to kill him. Each chapter, page the stakes get higher, the conflict intensifies, and the characters are anything but skin deep. What I liked about the 39 Steps is what Maass preaches in his book.


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