Book Review: The Fire in Fiction

I have to confess that I not only haven't read this book, but I don't own it, either. So how can I write a review of it?

Well, yesterday I spent six hours listening to Donald Maass, agent at the Donald Maass Literary Agency teaching principles from The Fire in Fiction, and sat through a workshop the day before that delved further into ideas from the book. Maass' agency is a powerhouse, selling more than 150 books per year.

Maass worked us hard during the workshop, asking us to stretch ourselves far beyond what we thought we could do. We wrote and rewrote the same scenes five and six times, each rewrite adding more tension and conflict. Though it was exhausting, it was rewarding as we watched our scenes evolve and become stronger.

So I'm positive that I will buy The Fire in Fiction, and the things I've learned are already changing the way I write and the way I revise what I've already written.

Maass taught that what he calls "micro-tension" needs to be increased on every page. Micro-tension is what keeps the reader turning pages and staying up at night unable to put a book down. Conflict is the key to holding the reader's attention.

The three key areas to work on are dialogue, action, and emotion. If the writer can increase the tension in every snippet of these three areas, it will be hard for a reader to close the book.

One of Maass' suggestions was to print out your entire manuscript, and throw the pages into the air, scattering them around the room. Gather them up in whatever random order they've landed. Then examine each page, in turn, and find if there is tension on the page. If not, add it. If there is, add more. There can never be enough.

If you'd like to hear more about micro-tension, here are some resources:

An excerpt from Maass' book, part of the Micro-Tension chapter.

A Q&A with Donald Maass.

An interview with Donald Maass.

Novel Journey's interview.

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