Category: Checklists

Premise: A Checklist

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons & karindalziel.

Last spring when I was taking my workshop in novel writing, one of our required books was “Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass. As you’d expect, there’s a chapter about premis. A premise involves any single moment, feeling, or image that has enough power to set a story on fire and keep it going.

At the end of the chapter (at the end of every chapter, actually), Maass has a checklist. Because the premise in your writing is such an important part of the writing process, I wanted to post it here. Not everyone has read the book (I do recommend picking it up), and the checklist is an important one.

BREAKOUT Checklist:

  • A breakout premise can be built.
  • Your favorite novels sweep you away, have characters you cannot forget, and involve dramatic and meaningful events.
  • A breakout premise has plausibility, inherent conflict, originality and gut emotional appeal.
  • Plausibility means that the story could happen to any of us.
  • Inherent conflict means problems in your “place.”
  • Originality can be new angles on old stories, the opposite of what we expect or story elements in unexpected combinations.
  • Gut emotional appeal springs from the emotional situations that grab us in life.
  • Even an unlikely starting point can be built into a breakout premise.
  • To brainstorm a breakout premise, steer away from the obvious, seek inherent conflict, fund gut emotional appeal and ask, “What if…?”

[Was this post helpful? Would you like to see more of these checklists in the future? How do you raise the stakes in your own writing? Let’s discuss it in the comments!]

Happy Writing!

Theme: A Checklist

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons & karindalziel.

Last spring when I was taking my workshop in novel writing, one of our required books was “Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass. As you’d expect, there’s a chapter about theme. Theme building takes work, but it can be done step-by-step. Become passionate about your theme.

At the end of the chapter (at the end of every chapter, actually), Maass has a checklist. Because the theme in your writing is such an important part of the writing process, I wanted to post it here. Not everyone has read the book (I do recommend picking it up), and the checklist is an important one.

BREAKOUT Checklist:

  • Novels are moral.
  • Conflicting ideals or values create tension.
  • Become impassioned about your story.
  • Express convictions through characters.
  • Use the reverse motive exercise to deepen your characters’ convictions.
  • Develop symbols from what is at hand.
  • Strengthen your own passion with the oppression exercise.
  • Map the moral development (or decline) of your protagonist.
  • Universal themes usually are familiar, but in the breakout novel, they are portrayed in depth.
  • If you must go out on a moral limb, anchor your readers in a sympathetic character.
  • Don’t push theme; let it flow.
  • Put your characters to the test.

[Was this post helpful? Would you like to see more of these checklists in the future? How do you raise the stakes in your own writing? Let’s discuss it in the comments!]

Happy Writing!

Characters: A Checklist

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons & karindalziel.

Last spring when I was taking my workshop in novel writing, one of our required books was “Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass. As you’d expect, there’s a chapter about characters. They need to be out of the ordinary; characters are what makes your plot interesting

At the end of the chapter (at the end of every chapter, actually), Maass has a checklist. Because Raising the stakes in your writing is such an important part of the writing process, I wanted to post it here. Not everyone has read the book (I do recommend picking it up), and the checklist is an important one.

BREAKOUT Checklist: Characters

  • All stories are character driven.
  • Engrossing characters are out of the ordinary.
  • Readers’ sympathy for characters comes from characters’ strengths.
  • Larger-than-life characters say what we cannot say, do what we cannot do, change in ways that we cannot change.
  • Larger-than-life characters have conflicting sides and are conscious of self.
  • Dark protagonists appeal only when they have sympathetic sides; e.g., they struggle to change or have hidden sensitivity.
  • The highest character qualities are self-sacrifice and forgiveness.
  • Build a cast for contrast.
  • Build complex character relationships by combining roles.
  • Choose a narrator based on who is changed most by the story’s events.
  • Build depth of character with tools like character biographies, author-character dialogues, etc.
  • Differentiate characters with character charts.
  • Breakout characters are deep and many-sided.

[Was this post helpful? Would you like to see more of these checklists in the future? How do you raise the stakes in your own writing? Let’s discuss it in the comments!]

Raising the Stakes: A Checklist

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons & karindalziel.

Last spring when I was taking my workshop in novel writing, one of our required books was “Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass. As you’d expect, there’s a chapter about raising stakes in your novel. Doing that, raising the stakes, simply makes your story stronger.

At the end of the chapter (at the end of every chapter, actually), Maass has a checklist. Because Raising the stakes in your writing is such an important part of the writing process, I wanted to post it here. Not everyone has read the book (I do recommend picking it up), and the checklist is an important one.

BREAKOUT Checklist: Stakes

  • High stakes yield success.
  • Stakes say what could be lost.
  • To test stakes, as, “So what?”
  • High stakes start with human worth.
  • Making public stakes real means starting with a grain of truth.
  • Breakout novels combine high public stakes with high personal stakes.
  • Deep personal stakes dig down so far that they show us who we are.
  • Public stakes change with the times.
  • To raise personal stakes, ask, “How can this matter more?”
  • To raise overall stakes, “How could things get worse?”
  • Keep danger immediate. Make your characters suffer.
  • High stakes come from your own stakes in writing your story.

[Was this post helpful? Would you like to see more of these checklists in the future? How do you raise the stakes in your own writing? Let’s discuss it in the comments!]