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.

Happy writing!

Wishing you abundant blessings!
Debby Giusti


Jessica said...

Good Post. So far I seem to have death in all of my stories. Not sure if I handle it great though. :-)
Very interesting. Have you ever seen 3:10 to Yuma?
That's an awesome story that probably incorporates all five elements.

Sherry W. said...

Debby, I wonder if I should even get the workbook. I get so much just from reading your post!

As I read this I thought about the scene I am working on and everything just sort of fell into place. I now have three of the five worked in.

Debby Giusti said...

Jessica, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment! I include death in my stories as well. Probably because I write suspense . . . someone has to die! Right?

Just kidding.

But I do write about loss and death, perhaps because I know that deep pain is universal and readers can empathize with my characters and, hopefully, feel a connection.

I'm making a note to check out 3:10 to Yuma from my local Blockbusters! Thanks!

Debby Giusti said...

WHEW! Sherry!!! Three of Maass' List of Five! Way to go!!!

I'm thinking about moral choices and how to incorporate more of them into my work. When the hero or heroine are presented with a problem, they could weigh the pros and cons to decide the right course of action. By tweaking the process they go through in making those decisions, I might be able to enhance their impact.

Dianne said...

Whew! get up early! I am enjoying your blog each week. I'm learning more and more about writing.. Maybe someday I'll write my childrens book and illustrate it, but for now I'll keep painting and reading yours! :o)
Have a great week!

Debby Giusti said...

Hi Dianne! Great to hear from you!

Speaking of art . . .
I'm giving a talk tomorrow to the Philanthropic Education Organization in my area and happened upon an interesting tidbit.

An art teacher divided her class into two sections. One group of students was told to paint a picture and focus on quality. The second half of the class was told not to worry about quality but instead to focus of quantity. At the end of the allotted time, the students who worked on quantity had produced more art and better quality art than the students focused on quality alone.

Interesting lesson for all of us to keep painting or keep writing or keep pursueing whatever is our hearts' desire, and we will improve.