Monday, May 25, 2015

The Maass Moment

If you’ve fought your way through Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook or heard Donald Maass speak, you know what I’m talking about. The Maass Moment is when the protagonist goes beyond burning bridges; he sets himself adrift in a burning boat. All is lost.
As Thomas Wolfe wrote in You Can’t Go Home Again, “Son, son, you have been mad and drunken, furious and wild, filled with hatred and despair, and all the dark confusions of the soul – but so have we. 

There is no going back. The character and his world have changed.

Writing a Maass Moment is hard. The writer should not (in my opinion):

Spring the Maass Moment on an unsuspecting readership. In the workshop I attended in January, Donald Maass led us through a series of steps where the protagonist continues to undercut her goal until she comes to the point of no return. (Click here for Charlie Barshaw’s awesome review of that workshop.)

Allow the protagonist achieve the Maass Moment by being drunk and disorderly. Sure, people do that in real life, but the novel is much more effective if the crisis occurs through emotional strain rather than debauchery.

Let the character off too easily. By nature, I’m a peacemaker, so my characters tend to resolve conflicts. I go through the steps outlined in the workshop and rewrite each appropriate scene. But I note the page. The following day, I revisit that scene, and make it worse, forbid the characters to kiss and make up, make them to say hateful things, and force them to do the unforgivable. Then I revise again. And again. I never make it bad enough on the first few tries.  

Once the character has lost everything, she is free to do what was impossible before. 


Anonymous said...

My internal peacemaker gets in the way, too. Thanks for some ideas on how to get around that calming influence.

Ann Finkelstein said...

Kristin: Those are such hard scenes to write.

Wyman Stewart said...

"I'll be back!" 3:30 a.m. is not the hour to express myself. I want to be rational in my own irrational way. Great post though!

Ann Finkelstein said...

See you later, Wyman.

Wyman Stewart said...

"WOMEN! Always peacemaking! Is the Islamic State "peacemaking" in the Middle East? Does heaven have no fury like a woman scorned? Where is your "emotional fury" hiding, ladies?" That is my reply to NOT Let The Character Off Too Easily. Don't tiptoe up to that page each day trying to make it a little worse, a little more emotional and unforgiving. Unleash your characters "inner demons", then let them go at each other in a fight to the death. As writer, you get to play the role of a god. You can bring them back to life, if they kill each other. Through a rewrite, you can pull them back from the brink of death. You, the writer-god, decide what to leave in and what to leave out. Let them sink their teeth into each other a few times. They are stuck in your work. Where else can they go, but where you send them?

Plus, is your character really "free to do what was impossible before" or must he / she move on, like real people? People who take their "new emotional baggage" with them, now that freedom forces your characters, to go where it seemed impossible before? You've pushed them, bullied them, shoved them forward, in the direction you demand they go in. Isn't this what happens to people in real life, especially flawed people? You are writing about flawed people, aren't you? Do I, or any teen, want to read about PERFECT people or anyone near perfect? I think not.

:-) Okay, putting this devil away before you lynch me. Maybe this is what Donald Maass is saying. True, he organizes his chaos, but for the reader's sake, you must gradually reveal the chaotic story’s order and path to your reader.

I have never read any work written by Ann Finkelstein, but I find you highly organized and logical. Your posts and comments are a pleasure to read; very civilized, you are. That's your problem, also. You can't write that way. By that, I mean, people are irrational and illogical. They are emotional beings driven more by their emotions, than anything else. Only after you allow your characters to be irrational, illogical, emotional human beings, can you impose just enough order to your story, so your reader is not lost, thus loses interest. I root hard for you to be published, because you have a gift for being rational, logical, well-educated, and civilized. You can teach people. However, your readers must be taught from the illogical, messy, inarticulate classroom of life, where they live.

Of course, I could be wrong. I am opinionated. (Really, I am.) I agree with Maass, the writing world is a mess. But, it's the only mess we've got to work with, so work with it, we must. By the way, I would like an autographed copy of your first published Young Adult book. This includes your other writer friends here. “Okay, the men in the white suits want me to put on my jacket (straitjacket), then return to my padded cell here at the asylum.”
“You Go girls!” (And guys.) Write those books. :-)

Ann Finkelstein said...

Here's to chaos.