Friday, October 14, 2011

What I Think Donald Maass Said

I attended a workshop a couple of years ago conducted by Donald Maass (author of Writing the Breakout Novel and The Fire in Fiction and "more than sixteen novels" which he's rumored to have written using a pseudonym). I took pages and pages of notes, mostly exercises using the manuscript I'd completed at the time.

Looking through those notes this morning, I couldn't actually find this, but I swear he said it:

"If it isn't on the page, it doesn't exist."

So, I've decided he said it. And since this is my blog, I've decided he said it more than once.

Apparently, for me, it might have been a good idea to say it One. More. Time.

A few wonderful authors reviewed my First Fifty pages recently, and one catch (among many great catches) revolved around my minimal use of physical description and other personal detail. Wow. True.

I know my characters so well, see them in such a highlighted and defined way when I tell their stories, that I made the fatal assumption everyone else could see them as well. I neglected to put their descriptions on the page.

The trick is to find a balance. I do not want to become the Tom Clancy of characterization. I want to give just enough detail that my readers can take it from there, and enjoy their own mental images of my characters.

Have you ever read a book and half-way through you're told the brown-haired protagonist is blonde? Not only does it take me out of the story, it kind of ticks me off.

I recently read a wonderful series of books featuring the same protagonist. Unless I missed it, no description appeared in the first few books. So, in my mind, he bore a strong resemblance to Brian Dennehy—a kind of gentle giant. Imagine my shock when I read that he was small and wiry? I shook my head and decided to stick with Brian.

So, part of my First Fifty revisions include a bit more description. Hopefully, just enough.

For those of you who are much like me, here it is, One. More. Time:

"If it isn't on the page, it doesn't exist."

Today is also my blogging day at Crime Fiction Collective. I'm tackling my need to be perfect and would love you to stop by there as well.

CR: You're Next by Gregg Hurwitz. I'm loving this book and at about half-way through, feel like I can highly recommend it. It's such a pleasure to be reading something I enjoy.

It's all better with friends.


  1. I am quite like you, in that I have to really work to include description. I find human description particularly difficult, so this post is a good reminder to bring my characters out of my head and into the real world!

  2. Lara, it's always something, isn't it?

    Just don't go Tom Clancy with the descriptions.