It's been a month since my last blogging gig as a pink fuzzy slipper, and I'm excited to start on my breakout journey with Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass. The book has 34 chapters, and each month I'm summarizing a different chapter and doing one of the exercises at the chapter end.

Maass has divided the chapters into three parts, and the first part is, of course, Character Development. The first chapter is titled From Protagonist to Hero. Donald Maass is sneaky. This chapter starts you off easy . . . but I've read the book three times and it doesn't stay easy. If it did, I wouldn't be going through this. There's an old song titled "Breaking up is Hard to Do." Breaking out is hard to do, too.

Maass tells us to create heroes that people want to spend time with. He says we need to give the reader a reason to care about our protagonist "in your opening pages." According to him, it doesn't take much to give the character qualities we like and admire. "A small show of gumption, a glimmer of humor, a dab of ironic self-regard can be enough for us to hang onto."

He gives an example from Tess Gerritsen's THE SURGEON. I'm sure you can think of your own examples. Instead I'm listing the five ways Michael Hauge gives in his DVD, "The Hero's 2 Journey," to create characters the reader cares about:

  • Create sympathy.

  • Put the hero in jeopardy.

  • Make the hero likeable.

  • Make the hero funny.

  • Make the hero powerful.

Hauge says we need to reveal at least two of these qualities as soon as the hero is introduced. He's talking about movies, and we might have a bit more leeway in books, but you get the idea.

Back to Maass and his exercises. He asks: "Who are your personal heroes?" I put down my mother, who was widowed with five children between the ages of three and ten. Yet I never heard her complain. She did what she had to do and went on with her life.

All my protagonists are like that. Not a whiny one in the bunch. The heroine in my wip had been married to a man who beat her, but she's not fearful and sorry for herself. Instead she's embracing her new life -- as much as she can with all the trouble I'm heaping on her head.

Who are your personal heroes? Have you given their heroic traits to your protagonists?


  1. Judy // March 18, 2009 at 8:15 AM  

    Great to have you here! I've got to go back and work with Maas's book! I loved hearing about your mother. Women, to me, are so strong. My own mother suffered from MS for years yet lived a full, productive life.

  2. Mary Marvella // March 18, 2009 at 8:34 AM  

    Edie, this a thought provoking post. My characters are like Mama, in a way. They keep chugging along, no matter what happens. I hope to be that strong.

    Mama went to work with three children so Daddy could get a college degree a Masters and a sixth year degree. She became his caregiver when he became ill and never complained

  3. Edie // March 18, 2009 at 8:36 AM  

    Judy, the women across the street from me has had MS for many years and she's leading a full, productive life, too. That would be a great heroic character, one I never thought of using.

  4. Edie // March 18, 2009 at 8:39 AM  

    Mary, I think you take after your mother, too. Good for her for being so strong. She must be a great role model and is a real hero.

  5. Joanne // March 18, 2009 at 8:49 AM  

    I hope you continue with your post. I found your comments very helpful. Donald Maas's book holds a wealth of information.

  6. Nightingale // March 18, 2009 at 10:06 AM  

    Thanks for sharing the book with us, Edie. Your post made me think about who my heroes are. After my Mom and Dad, I've been trying to think of others.

  7. Arkansas Cyndi // March 18, 2009 at 10:25 AM  

    Interesting post. Donald Maas's book totally flipped me out when I read it (it was VERY early in my writing attempts) I think it's time I go back and read it ago.

    Now, my personal heroes..excellent question that I don't have an immediate answer for. Seriously. I have no answer. I think I'm going to have to give this some thought!

  8. Edie // March 18, 2009 at 10:42 AM  

    Joanne, I'm learning a lot from even the simple questions of Maass's books. I recently did a lot of character work. The harder ones for me will be about the plot.

  9. Edie // March 18, 2009 at 10:44 AM  

    Nightingale, your mom and dad are the best heroes, if we're lucky to have them. If not my mom, I'm not sure who I'd pick as a hero, either.

  10. Edie // March 18, 2009 at 10:46 AM  

    Cyndi, I was flipped out the first time I read the book too -- even before the workbook. The "tension in every page" was something I needed to work on.

  11. Liz L. // March 18, 2009 at 12:30 PM  

    I love Donald Maass. I went to one of his workshops a while back, but I have forgotten so much already. Thanks for the reminders.

    My heroines are fashioned after the women in my life I admire - my mother, my sisters, my own daughter and my forever friends. Heroes are usually copies of the bad boys I always gravitated to when I was single. (I'm still married to one!!)

    Thanks for the refresher.

  12. Edie // March 18, 2009 at 3:01 PM  

    I went to one of his workshops a while back, but I have forgotten so much already.

    Liz, I remember that. I think you still apply it to your writing, subconsciously if not consciously.

  13. Scarlet Pumpernickel // March 18, 2009 at 3:32 PM  

    Great post. It's always good to have someone else's take on an instructional book. We always miss things when we read. Thanks for blogging on the fuzzies!


  14. Mary Ricksen // March 18, 2009 at 3:52 PM  

    Thanks for the wonderful post.
    Put those characters from one problem into the next. And see how they overcome them.

    MS is a devastating disease. And more research needs to be done.

  15. Kath Calarco // March 18, 2009 at 4:11 PM  

    Edie, great post! You've reminded writers the importance of making them like the main character first. I've made the mistake of not doing that, and when it was pointed out to me (a gazillion times), I re-wrote the beginning. I knew my character was a good person, but what good is that if the reader doesn't find him/her appealing within the first few pages?

    Personal hero? I'd have to say it's my hubby. He puts up with me. ;)

  16. Edie // March 18, 2009 at 4:26 PM  

    Scarlet, I'm pleased Cyndi asked me to blog once a month. It's fun to be fuzzy!

  17. Edie // March 18, 2009 at 4:29 PM  

    Mary, I'm so glad Obama lifted the ban on stem cell research laws. I hope this leads to a faster cure for MS, Parkinson and so many other diseases.

  18. Edie // March 18, 2009 at 4:33 PM  

    Kath, that is probably the most important part of writing. I know there are unlikable characters in books, but I'm guessing they have one or two redeemable qualities the writer shows pretty quickly.

  19. Barbara White Daille // March 18, 2009 at 7:01 PM  


    Thanks. This is a reminder to me to pull out and READ the book instead of leaving it in my TBR file. LOL

    And this will probably sound hokey, but one of my personal heroes is my husband. For many reasons.


  20. Pamela Varnado // March 18, 2009 at 8:17 PM  

    I'm so glad you're doing this. I'm sure I'll learn so much each month. I've read the book, but it's so much information it's all jumbled up in my head. So thanks for doing a little a month. That way I can soak every bit of advice before moving on to the next tip.

  21. Edie // March 18, 2009 at 8:37 PM  

    Barbara, yes, you should read it. You'll get so much from this book. It's one of the best books for writers I've read.

  22. Edie // March 18, 2009 at 8:41 PM  

    Pamela, that's great! Going through all 34 chapters will be an interesting writer's journey.

  23. Mary Marvella // March 18, 2009 at 10:45 PM  

    Edie will challenge us all and smile innocently while she does it! She's good at that!

  24. Edie // March 18, 2009 at 11:54 PM  

    Mary, I don't know what you're talking about.

    Edie, smiling innocently.

  25. Debbie Kaufman // March 19, 2009 at 8:44 AM  

    Being careful with your hero's characteristics is so important. Someone pointed out to me that one of my secondarys, intended to be a primary in the next book, was looking a little like a jerk! Rewrote him quickly with more "heroic" characteristics. Love Donald Maas's work

  26. Edie // March 19, 2009 at 10:09 AM  

    Debbie, that's funny. Yes, we've got to give them a redeeming quality, even the jerks. Although I've known a few who weren't so redeeming.

  27. Mona Risk // March 19, 2009 at 1:12 PM  

    I was fortunate enough to attend an all-day workshop of D. Maass. He even read my first paragraph loud and said interesting, send me a partial. He didn't request my full, but he changed my writing completely.

    I learned not to put background in the first thirty pages, not to have a protagonist reading, or driving, or sleeping, because these attitudes tend to make the reader doze.

    Action, emotion, fast pace, Maass kept repeating, and then raise the stakes. I still have my notes.

    Also Mary Buchan uses D. Maass suggestions for a good hook in her workshop on Pacing: end every chapter and every scene with a hook, in addition, you need a strong hook at the end of the first paragraph, the first page, page#3, chapter #1 and chapter #3 because these are the places where editors tend to stop reading.

    Great post Edi.

  28. Edie // March 19, 2009 at 1:36 PM  

    Mona, very cool that Donald Maass asks for a full. Maybe he'll love the next one you send.

    Thanks for all the great hints! I usually put in enough description to ground the reader and give her a visual. My CPs will tell you I'm not big on descriptions.

  29. Mary Marvella // March 19, 2009 at 2:23 PM  

    Good addition, Mona. Teamwork!

  30. Cynthia Eden // March 19, 2009 at 6:17 PM  

    Great post, Edie! I sure do enjoy powerful heroes--and putting those powerful heroes in jeopardy. :-) In fact, I'm about to put one poor guy into some serious jeopardy right now.

  31. Edie // March 19, 2009 at 8:09 PM  

    In fact, I'm about to put one poor guy into some serious jeopardy right now.

    Cindy, Donald Maass would approve. We love to torment our characters.