Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook: a review

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

This book, by Donald Maass, is an extension of his Writing the Breakout Novel (WtBN).  While some refer to WtBN as a “masters course in novel-writing”, WtBN Workbook takes it up a big notch to PhD-level.  Maass doesn’t pretend that his method will be quick or easy – in fact, he emphasizes that it should take years to fully complete. Don’t let that scare you off.

The main goal with WtBN Workbook is to take your WIP and apply the various qualities that have made other novels “breakout”.  Maass has spent years reading successful novels (of all genres) and determining what techniques reappear in each book – techniques that make them “breakout”.  Now, I have no illusions that my WIP will be a “breakout novel” per se, but I do see the benefits of improving my manuscript’s quality based on other people’s successes.

The set-up of WtBN Workbook follows a Lesson-Example-Worksheet format, and as a left-brained sort of person, I found this extremely helpful.  Of course, the small amount of space allotted to answering each question is no way near enough!  I recommend writing on separate pages or typing out your answers in a text file.  Some lessons require you to work directly on your manuscript. It should come as no surprise that there are courses devoted entirely to working through just this book. But trust me when I say that all this work is worth it.

In fact, to get the most from this book, I went through the whole workbook prior to my most recent first draft.  I incorporated each of the lessons into my usual outlining method.  And now that I’m in the revisions stage, I’m pushing through the workbook again.  That’s how highly I think of WtBN Workbook!

While some techniques may seem “duh” (e.g. having tension on every page), it doesn’t seem so “duh” when you’re actually trying to fill out the worksheet and add tension to every page (in fact it’s delightfully excruciating).

Not boring, not dry, and chock-full of valuable methods for improving your manuscript, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook is a must-have for the author’s bookshelf.


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