Monday, February 22, 2010

Donald Maass Workshop

The workshop was fantastic. What Donald does is help you look at your book from a different angle. You analyze the book from a "how can I make it better?" approach.

Our first exercise was to take a good look at your protagonist. What are her/his motivations? What's the goal.

They don't have one? You have a serious problem.

OK, let's say that they do have a motivation. How strong is it? Is it something that will drive them to do average things? You still have a problem.

To be a good story your protagonist has to be driven out of their comfort zone, and so do you. You have to put them through hell, and let them come out the other side a stronger person.

What will make your protagonist's motivation stronger?

Got it?

OK, now make it even worse.
Is your protagonist going to make it through? What if they fail? What if someone else has to come in and save the day?

OK, now make it even worse.

You get the idea? It's hard to think of putting your characters through situations that hurt them, but it's necessary. You are very emotionally in sync with your character, but the reader is not. In order to get your readers to care about your character, you have to put them through terrible trouble, otherwise, there isn't a story.

One part of the seminar for me was really cool. Donald asked to read dialog from one of our manuscripts. I happened to be close, so he picked mine.

His goal was to critique it, and make it better. After reading the passage, he was pretty much at a loss to do so. After a few minutes he did come up with some ideas, but he told me when he handed back my manuscript, that it was really hard, and that the scene was written very well.

Walking out of the room, my head barely fit through the door, but I'm better now.

Here is the scene. You have to read Lester's part as a redneck.

“So how did you find out about the affair?” Hicks asked.

Lester flushed red once more.

“She told me she wanted a di-vorce.”

“Just like that? No warning?”

Lester paused in thought for a moment.

“I guess she was gone a lot before it happened, but I never knew anything was happenin til she told me.”

“What did you do?” Hicks asked.

“Why the fuck do ya care bout this shit?” Lester asked.

“Answer the question Lester. The answers all go toward your guilt or innocence.”

“Well I don’t see how any a this makes a diffrence.”

“Answer the question please.” Hicks ordered.

Lester snarled.

“What do you think I did?”

“Did you hit her?”

He didn’t respond.

“I said did you hit her?”

Still no response.

“Answer the question.” Hicks barked.

“No, I never touched her.”


  1. I love Donald Maas! My head would barely fit through the door, either, if he said that about my work! :-)

  2. How cool is that? Wow! Not only to have been able to attend his workshop, but then he reads your work and likes it? OMG. Tres, tres cool.

    Lynnette Labelle

  3. That's great that you had the opportunity to go to one of his workshops. I have his "Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook" and it has helped me so, so much.

  4. I love that dialog, and man, do I wish I was there with you, Doug. Sounds like it was awesome.

  5. Thanks for the kind words Anthony. You'll have to try and make it down next time, or catch Donald if he comes to your area. He's definitely worth it.


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