Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Week 20: The List of Five
As I work my way through Donald Maass’ WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK, I am often struck with the author’s ability to hone in on the very essence of good writing and the concepts and techniques that define a great book. This week is no exception.
If anything, Maass seems to underplay the ease with which he ferrets out basic elements that produce a memorable read, as if anyone could come to the same conclusions should they choose to look deeply into contemporary literature. I, for one, consider Maass a story expert, if not genius, and deeply appreciate the straight-forward way he lays out examples in his workbook so that I can easily grasp the sometimes complex, sometimes abstract, sometimes subtle, yet always profound insights he provides.
This week, Maass gives us five elements that provide what he calls “high moments” in a story when a book soars. They’re the “ah-ha” moments that make us pause in our reading to savor the richness of the story.
The List of Five:
Reversal of direction or transformation
Moral choices or tests of character
When we provide opportunities for a character to forgive a wrong or put the needs of another before his own, we are elevating that character’s worth. When characters are elevated, readers are elevated as well.
If our character reverses direction within a story and the reader understands why that change or transformation occurs, we have given the reader a deeper insight and connection with that character.
Moral choices that test our characters allow readers to grapple with those same issues and hopefully learn and become morally strengthened because of them.
Death is universal. Each of us will face the loss of a friend or loved one. How we handle that loss is a reflection of the relationship, our view of life, whether we have faith in God and the strength of the inner fiber that defines us. Death within a book allows the reader to study his or her own response to loss. A well-written character that grapples with death provides insights for readers to store in their own internal arsenal to be drawn out and used when they face separation and loss.
Those of us who are writers should memorize Maass’ list of five and when fleshing out new plot lines ensure at least one, if not all, are incorporated into our stories. Forgiveness, self-sacrifice, transformation, moral choices and death will elevate our characters and our stories as well.
Wishing you abundant blessings!