Cephalopod Coffe House

Welcome to the Cephalopod Coffee House. The purpose of the coffee house is to write about the best book you read in the past month, and visit others who have done the same.

This month I read, and very much enjoyed, Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass.


I chose this book because I have been having problems with writing my second novel. It was a story I liked, filled with characters I loved, but I couldn't get it to come out right. I googled around for writing books and this one seemed to be on the top of a lot of peoples' lists.

Donald Maass is a literary agent, and he uses his experience to pin point the common traits that all breakout novels share. He doesn't particularly focus on good writing - as we all know, popular books aren't always the most well written ones - and he doesn't go too much into plotting a novel. He does touch on characters, settings, themes, and most importantly (or at least, what I found most important) setting the stakes, then raising them. He uses examples from different breakout novels to illustrate his points, which was very helpful.

While the book is very helpful, the forward and some of the points of reference could be updated. It was published in 2000, before 9/11,  and the e-publishing boom, and when Harry Potter was still a series for children, but otherwise, the advice seems current and relevant.

Don't forget to stop by other members of the coffee house:


  1. Raising the stakes - I think motivation is such a key to a successful narrative. What motivates the character and, in turn, what motivates me to keep reading? Raising the stakes seems an important part of that.

  2. I have both the book and the workbook - excellent resource!

  3. Hmmmmm...this is intriguing. I'm always looking for resources to help my students. Perhaps I'll give this a look...

  4. Sounds like a worthwhile read - even if it could use a 2nd edition update. :)

  5. A literary agent ought to know good stuff about what makes a novel spin, would be interested to learn more. Can't hurt for the writing to be good too though!

  6. I've heard a lot about this one. Quite honestly I've never read this book and I've never had an issue with getting my books on the page. That's great if it's helping you, though! I'm surprised they haven't updated it by now.

  7. I have the workbook for this book, and I tried using it for my first novel, but it wasn't a good fit. I felt like Maas is really helping genre writers, especially thriller writers. His advice doesn't apply so well to literary fiction or historical fiction. Still ... it is certainly worthwhile for any writer to check it out, just in case it helps them get past a bumpy spot in the novel-planning process.

    1. Yeah, I can see what you mean. Most of his examples are from thrillers, but I think he uses them because they're extreme cases of stake raising (I don't know if that makes sense). Literary fiction, at least in my experience as a reader, plays by a slightly different set of rules, so a book telling you to keep upping the ante probably wouldn't be very helpful.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

26 Things In Alphabetical Order

Achievements/Goals August 20th