Keeping it Hopeful: A Review of The Emotional Craft of Fiction

The Emotional craft of fictionA few weeks ago I read The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass. It is a fantastic book. I will admit that I was shallowly drawn to the beautiful cover which features the silhouette of a person, with trees making up the person’s shoulders, head and face. When it came in the mail, I was even more excited, because the silhouette of the person is a slightly different texture (glossy) from the rest of the cover (matte). The other things I love about this book are its chapter titles, and the inclusion of examples taken from stories that were written during the last 20 years, instead of before I was born.

Maass’s book offers exercises and questions to get writers thinking more fully about readers’ emotional experiences, and how best to make readers feel along with the characters. Maass shares excerpts from published novels, and he also offers real-life experiences to get us feeling. He does a pretty good job at mostly not giving away spoilers in the stories he excerpts. He mentions The Hunger Games, Gone Girl, and many others, including this random vampire movie I remember watching a few years ago on Netflix (it began as a book).

The big take-away that I got from flying through his book is this: We like characters who are trying to be good people, in whatever way “Goodness” means to them. We don’t like weak, pathetic people, so why would we write about only them? If we’re going to write about a dystopic, miserable future, then we need to make our characters hopeful and giving, so that we have some reason to keep reading.

For a writing book that could have become too sappy or literary beyond understanding, Donald Maass puts together a fantastic explanation of why, when and how characters matter. I highly recommend this book to fiction and nonfiction writers and readers.

What are your favorite writing books? Have you read any great books that aren’t already famous (ie: Writing Down the Bones and Stephen King’s On Writing? Share them with others here.

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