While attending my first writers’ meetup, I was introduced to the idea of writing a “breakout” novel.” Writers are considered to have written a breakout book when they receive significant royalty checks and are offered opportunities for book signings at large bookstores.
Many writers want to write a breakout book. This is evidenced by the sales of Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. In his book, Maass explains the elements that all breakout novels share and provides tips on how to write such novels. As a literary agent, Maass knows what he wants to see in a novel, but he has made his name by selling his book to aspiring writers who crave the affirmation of others.
Wanting others to recognize one’s worth is not new. When I was in fourth grade I read the novel, Sister Sue, (1920) by Eleanor Porter.* Sue, above all else, wanted to be known for her piano playing ability. She was sure she possessed great talent and she would imagine hearing the ringing “applause of uncounted audiences” and seeing “the vision of herself bowing her thanks to the clamorous, ‘Encore! Encore! Susanna Gilmore.’”
So what does an aspiring novelist do to get acclaim? Using concepts from books such as the one written by Mr. Maass may be helpful, but I think a good style guide and a dictionary would be even more helpful.
Unless a writer has celebrity status, success is not likely if, in the second sentence of the prologue, readers see, “He furls his brow, …” Really? He throws, flings, tosses, or maybe launches his brow? I grimaced as I read this in a book listed as #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.
Some things I found in my recent reads left me scratching my head. Out of hundreds, I’ve chosen a few examples.
- “Fear flickered in her gut.” Oh no, a sparkling gut! What might she have swallowed? Most things need light in order to sparkle. Should the reader’s mind follow whatever made her gut sparkle to the logical consequence? I won’t even go there.
- “A warning shiver trickled down her back.” Dripped, dribbled, filtered, oozed? Huh?
- “… her mouth twitching with thought.” I had to wonder what her mouth was considering.
- “The sudden hush was heavy.” Was she trying to lift the hush?
- ”…forcing an obnoxious, weak moan to ooze from her clenched lips.” Picture this!
- “…would surely open a Pandora’s box of trouble.” This writer is referencing Greek Mythology without an understanding of such. Pandora’s box is a source of extensive, unforeseen trouble. Was the author concerned that we might think it was a Pandora’s box of chocolates? This, I would actually prefer.
- “LaMama steps back to examine the tall ginger woman.” Was she made of ginger, or maybe gingerbread? No, the woman’s hair was red.
Maybe a thesaurus should be added to a writer's library. Maybe even a Prayer Book.
This Serenity Prayer for writers was published on “Before It’s News.” “God grant me the Serenity to accept rejection of manuscripts and the lagging sales of books over which I’ve sweated blood and wept tears; the Courage to revise and try again; and the Wisdom to know the difference between those that might fetch contracts and sales and those that need to be mourned, buried, and forgotten. Amen” – by Joan Reeves
I need to go now and check on dinner as my condo is “radiating in its tender, juicy fumes.” I should tell you the name of the book in which I read this one, but I’m attempting to be nice.