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. 

Friday, May 22, 2015


Zach working, and the sun coming through the trees.