The Wednesday Review: The Fire In Fiction

Having something to say, or something you wish to experience, is what gives your novel its power. Identify it. Make it loud. Do not be afraid of what’s burning in your heart. When it comes through on the page, you will be a true storyteller.”

        -Donald Maass in The Fire in Fiction

    Mark Twain once said that words were only painted fire, that the look was the fire itself. I don’t disagree with the statement because, as it is, if I was not the victim of a tragedy, I will never understand the pain and confusion of those who truly witnessed it. Reading a newspaper will not give me the authority to speak for any event as if I were the one in danger of losing my life. Reading a psychology book does not label me a psychological researcher, I will only be a reader of a very smart book.

    However, the key to the statement is that Mark Twain is not discrediting written works. He is instead labeling it an art, and not a witness account. Literature is an art form you will not find in a museum, other than Gideon’s Bible or other ancient literature which age never let us entirely uncover the facts.

    The same way a painting will only impact when well executed, a book burns with written passion only when the craft is well written. The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass is some of the best advice in the written world on how to bring out the painted fire in a book. It is a painter’s kit of tips and suggestions and tool that will bring out the colors of your fiction. My warning to you: prepare to be a writing arsonist.

    Stop though! Before buying this book, you should know this: it’s better to read this after you’ve written your first draft.

    It’s not like the book isn’t useful for any young writers who haven’t finished a cover to cover yet, it is, but you’ll feel bad because you can’t use the PRACTICAL SKILLS portion of the book. That section of the book tells you to go dig up your manuscript and make the changes that it suggested in the chapter proceeding it. I made the mistake of reading this book before I had written an actual book, and then felt bad every time I had to skip through the practical skills portion because I couldn’t follow the tips I’d just learned. Now, it’s different. I’m 45,000 words into my book, and now I can start to ramp it up. But, save yourself the guilt trip, don’t read this book until you’ve written your book.

    The content goes the whole nine yards, meaning it includes sections on characters, protagonists, villains, scenery, the middle section of your book, your motivation, etc. etc. It gives you real live examples from books that excelled in those categories, and better advice on how to do the same. It also helped me find a series that has given me considerable pleasure: the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik, which I actually reviewed on this blog some months ago. The examples and the material in this book are the real deal, and seeing as Maass also wrote the Breakout Novel series too, it’s easy to figure out that he knows all about how to write impactful fiction.

    Don’t forget writing is an art. That means taking the time to paint it right. Have harmony or dissonance to pop from the canvas of words. Have balance or imbalance to make a statement. I know a lot more art terms that could become metaphors too but I’ll spare you that because those can span whole volumes of books. Just as painting has a millions terms to know when studying it, so do books. There’s a reason why people can’t write books out of the blue: art isn’t something that can be picked up by any random guy on the street. It takes time to learn and to execute.

    But I have a solid belief. I once believed only talented people could make art. Turns out you can learn how to do it too. That’s why writer’s and craft books like each other. This book here, The Fire in Fiction, is not one to forget about. It is one of the few writing craft books that paint fire in its own way, and I’m not event talking about the cover.

    The Fire in Fiction receives a 4.5.

    See you Friday on the second installments on characters. I’ll be doing my research. ;)


    “Passionate writing makes every word a shaft of light, every sentence a crack of thunder, every scene a tectonic shift. When the purpose of every word is urgent, the story crackles, connects, weaves, and falls together in wondrous ways.”

    -Donald Maass in The Fire in Fiction.

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