I guess the law of averages says that all these self-help books on writing aren’t going to be winners, but I was disappointed at this book for a couple reasons. First of all, it was recommended by a professional writer friend whose opinion I trust and respect. When I found it unhelpful and a little condescending, I questioned my friend’s recommendation.
Secondly, this book is all about writing for a market and getting your story sold. It’s not about the writer’s passion or subject matter. Well, maybe if the subject matter is the latest (or next) “thing” agents and publishers are looking for. I don’t write like that. I have stories in my head that need to get out. I don’t write for a particular fad, and that’s what the High Impact is about – commercial fiction.
He discusses trends such as cross genres (e.g., science fiction romance) and the rise of unique presentations (which defy genre definitions). He also delves into the inner journey (emotions) and the outer journey (plots) and standout characters, but each of these lessons seem to be more about how to get an agent and publisher attention than to tell a story. Strong emotions, unusual plots, and characters that leap off every page. Okay. Each of the chapters and the others, Levels of the Story, Beautifully Written, and the 21st Century Novelist, are all heavily colored with “sell, sell, sell.”
I did like the format. Each chapter is broken into easily defined sections. For example, Beautifully Written is broken into Parallels, Story World, Surprise, Sense of Self, and The Big Picture. Each deals with a writing skill such as hidden theme, exposition, character development, and other things we’re familiar with. However, at the end of each chapter there are questions to make you think outside the box and challenges for you to expand your writing. I found these helpful, and they gave me some new ideas.
As the head of a literary agency in New York City, Mr. Maass knows what he’s talking about when he identifies what’s hot, but I wish he didn’t only promote writing to sell. I can’t chase that mirage. I can only write what I want to write about and hope an agent likes it someday.
I may have to reread this with more of an open mind because I did find the tools, checklists, and challenges to be instructive. For example, “List twenty things your protagonist notices in her story world that no one else does. Plant these somewhere in your manuscript.” A lot of thought went into these exercises, probably more than into the definitions and calls for “High Impact” which translates as “write whatever will grab the agent.”