what we're looking for this month
Writers often ask us what we’re “looking for.” Excellent fiction, of course, but what does that mean? This page is designed to tell you. Of course, we're open to any fiction that draws us in, but this page gives examples of what might pique our interest. We’ll update it regularly, so visit again.
What We’re Looking for in 2011
This year Don's been Tweeting (@DonMaass) a series of Breakout Novel prompts. You can search #Maass on Twitter...or just look here. Below are the prompts in reverse order. A new one is added weekly. Use them to power your WIP to Breakout level--and then keep us in mind when you're done.
(WIP = work in progress, MC = main character, POV = point of view)
58 What’s one way your MC tackles the big problem? Find another character who can do the same thing, or the opposite. Add.
57 Find a dramatic event in your WIP. Create a smaller version of it for another spot in the story.
56 What’s the most wonderful thing about your story world? Find ten new ways and spots to delight in that.
55 What do you like best about your MC? How soon can we see that on the page? How often? Add more than you think needed.
54 You are you MC’s best friend. Whether big or small, what is safe for your MC to share with you right now? Add immediately.
53 In your current scene, who’s against your MC? What’s that character hiding? Let your MC intuit, guess or see the truth.
52 In your current scene, what’s the outcome? Work backwards until the reader is sure that the opposite will occur.
51 In your current scene, what’s the sharpest line? Structure the scene to make that the *last* line.
50 At the top of your current scene what’s the mood? And at the end? Find words to sum up both, give them to your POV character.
49 In your current scene pin down the moment when things change. How does your POV character’s self-understanding also change? Add.
48 What greater issue or question does your MC puzzle over? Plant it, apply it three times, then find the moment when wisdom arrives.
47 What does you MC know about himself/herself that’s true? What does he/she *not* see that’s even more true? Hit ‘em with it.
46 What can your MC do that no one else can? What’s one unexpected benefit? What’s the biggest cost? When does it not work? Add.
45 What’s a foundational attribute of your MC? Create an odd tic or habit that implies the opposite. Add six times. Voilà: a quirk.
44 What’s the worst thing your antagonist must do? Make it against his/her principles. Make it unthinkable. Then make it imperative.
43 What does your antagonist believe in? Who else shares those values? Why are they actually right? When does your MC see that too?
42 Find three new ways and reasons for your protagonist and antagonist to come face to face.
41 What does your antagonist most want? How is it truly something that everyone wants? Explain & add.
40 What’s the best thing about your MC? Show that in a big (or small) way in Chapter 1, or your MC’s first chapter.
39 What makes your MC unique? What makes your MC exactly like anyone else? For each, show in five additional spots.
38 What miracle does your MC pray for? Make it impossible...then make it happen.
37 Your MC’s worst quality: let him/her struggle with it, provoke it 3 times, make it cost something big, then allow change.
36 Strongest emotion in your current scene: How does it change your POV character? How has the world changed too? Elaborate. Add.
35 Strongest emotion in your current scene. How does your POV char think it looks from the outside? What is now lost or gained?
34 In your current scene, what’s the strongest emotion? Why is it welcome? Why not? What’s good about it? What’s utterly wrong?
33 Find a small hurt someone suffers. What’s the big principle or hidden injustice it represents? Stir your MC to anger over it.
32 Find a corner, crossroads or dark object in your story. Invest it with eeriness, unknown portent or dread. Go there three times.
31 What’s the very worst aspect of the main problem your MC faces? Find one way to make it still worse.
30 What’s the worst thing that happens to your MC? Work backwards. Make it something your MC has spent a lifetime avoiding.
29 What’s the emotion or experience you’re most afraid to put your MC through? Go there. Do it. Now.
28 Set off fireworks between two characters. What’s the biggest skyrocket you can explode for the finale? Go ahead…kaboom!
27 What secret is your MC keeping? Who is keeping one *from* your MC? Spill the truth at the worst possible time.
26 Whom is your MC afraid to let down? What is the sacred trust between them? What would cause your MC to break it? Break it.
25 Before a new character debuts, give your MC an expectation or fear. Make the reality three times better or worse.
24 Find a strong emotion and replace it with a secondary one; find a throw-away moment and infuse it with rich feelings.
23 What does your MC know about people that no one else does? Create 3 moments when he/she spots that in others.
22 In the last inner monologue you wrote insert one insight, question or worry that hasn’t hit you (or your MC) before now.
21 In the last dialogue passage you wrote double the friction, disagreement, overt hostility or hidden agenda.
20 Cut 100 words from your last 3 pages.You have 5 minutes. Fail? Penalty: cut 200 words.
19 What principle guides your MC? At what moment is it most tested? When does it fail? Put it into action three times.
18 Give your MC passionate feelings about something trivial: e.g., cappuccino, bowling, argyle socks. Write his/her rant. Add it.
17 Who in your story has an ironclad, unshakable belief? Shatter or reverse it by the story’s end.
16 What’s the precise turning point in your current scene? Make its trigger more dramatic—or less obvious.
15 What’s one thing your MC hates as the story opens? By the end have your MC love that same thing. (Or vice versa.)
14 In your climactic scene, what are 3 details of place that only your MC would notice? Cut more obvious details, replace with these.
13 For your MC, what are the best things about these times? The worst? Create a passage of his/her take on this era.
12 During a big dramatic event, what’s one small thing your POV character realizes will never change or never be the same again?
11 Find a small passing moment in your manuscript. What big meaning does your MC see in it? Add that.
10 In your current scene, what’s a setting detail that delights or disgusts your POV character? Why? Elaborate & add.
09 What’s a place in your story where something significant happens? Switch two other story events to that location too.
08 Over what does your MC disagree with his/her boss or mentor? When does the boss/mentor prove to be right?
07 What does a sidekick or secondary character see about your MC that your MC denies? Force a showdown over it.
06 How does your POV character change in your current scene? Work backwards. Make that change unlikely, a surprise or impossible.
05 What should your readers most see, understand or be angry about? At what story moment will that happen? Heighten it in two ways.
04 Choose a middle scene: What does POV character feel most strongly? Evoke that feeling without naming it, through actions alone.
03 Find any violence in your ms. Delete any shock, fear or horror. Replace with two *conflicting* emotions that are less obvious.02 What’s the most selfless thing your MC does? What good change or effect does that have on someone unexpected? Add that in.
01 What’s the worst thing your MC does? Whom and how does that hurt? Now work backwards, set it up to hurt even more.