Over on my other website, ebooks4writers.com, I have a monthly writers' newsletter and this month I included an article I'd written on revision. Some writers (like me) love the first draft and struggle with meaningful revision. Others dread getting the first draft down and love rewriting over and over. I hate the feeling with revision that all I'm doing is fiddling around the edges and making no real difference to the heart of the story.
So when a book comes along that makes me actually champ at the bit to rewrite my current novel, before I've even finished the first draft (only about 3000 words off, though), that's a book worth recommending! It's Donald Maass's new title, Writing 21st Century Fiction - Maass is a longtime literary agent and you may have heard of his other books - Writing the Breakout Novel and The Fire in Fiction. In this new one, he says the time has come for the best elements of genre (all those things that create a page-turner) and the best of literary writing to combine into the kind of book that will become a best seller now.
Traditional genre and literary fiction still sells, of course, but the books hitting the top of the sales lists these days are the ones that catch on by word of mouth - they are brilliantly written, with story ideas and characters that totally engage the reader. Think Dennis Lehane, who was considered a crime writer for years until Mystic River and Shutter Island. Still crime but taking it to a new level of excellent writing. Then add books like The Help, The Kite Runner, Water For Elephants, The Lovely Bones, The Time Traveller's Wife - I could go on and on, but they are all books that sit between genre and literary and catch readers' imagination.
So I was interested in how Maass thinks you can write a book like this. Of course it comes down to things like standout characters and layered plots, but he tells you how to work with these elements, and gives great examples from published books. What I like best, though, is the huge list of questions at the end of each chapter that you can apply to your work in progress. I bought this as a Kindle book, but I wish now that I hadn't, as I'd really like to photocopy the questions and have them next to me to work through as I revise. I guess I'll have to work off the screen instead. Roll on, revision!