Over the last month, agent Donald Maass tweeted (@donmaass on Twitter) 31 “breakout prompts” based on his writing book, Writing the Breakout Novel.
I collected them all, one a day, and have pasted them in below. There are some fantastic nuggets here, to mull over whether you’re revising (me) or starting something new (also me). Thanks, Donald!
So here they are. A couple of them are a little longer than your usual 140-character tweet, because I thought his “introductory tweet” to the actual prompt was useful as well, so I included it, or because he answered someone’s question.
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
02 What’s the most selfless thing your MC does? What good change or effect does that have on someone unexpected? Add that in
03 Find any violence in your ms. Delete any shock, fear or horror. Replace with two *conflicting* emotions that are less obvious.
04 Choose a middle scene: What does POV character feel most strongly? Evoke that feeling without naming it, through actions alone.
05 What should your readers most see, understand or be angry about? At what story moment will that happen? Heighten it in two ways
06 How does your POV character change in your current scene? Work backwards. Make that change unlikely, a surprise or impossible
07 What does a sidekick or secondary character see about your MC that your MC denies? Force a showdown over it
08 Over what does your MC disagree with his/her boss or mentor? When does the boss/mentor prove to be right?
09 What’s a place in your story where something significant happens? Switch two other story events to that location too
10 In your current scene, what’s a setting detail that delights or disgusts your POV character? Why? Elaborate & add
11 Find a small passing moment in your manuscript. What big meaning does your MC see in it? Add that.
12 During a big dramatic event, what’s one small thing your POV character realizes will never change or never be the same again? Add.
13 For your MC, what are the best things about these times? The worst? Create a passage of his/her take on this era.
14 In your climactic scene, what are 3 details of place that only your MC would notice? Cut more obvious details, replace with these.
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.)
16 To provoke a noticeable change, create a sharp provocation. Today’s Breakout prompt zeroes in on your current scene… What’s the precise turning point in your current scene? Make its trigger more dramatic—or less obvious.
17 Who in your story has an ironclad, unshakable belief? Shatter or reverse it by the story’s end.
18 Engaging characters are passionately engaged in life. Their feelings tell us so. Today’s Breakout prompt coming up… Give your MC passionate feelings about something trivial: e.g., cappuccino, bowling, argyle socks. Write his/her rant. Add it. (It doesn’t advance the story, it deepens character. @suelder How does a trivial rant advance the story?)
19 What do you stand for? What about your MC? Today’s Breakout prompt matters… What principle guides your MC? At what moment is it most tested? When does it fail? Put it into action three times.
20 Cut 100 words from your last 3 pages. You have 5 minutes. Fail? Penalty: cut 200 words.
21 Dialogue is an opportunity not to be missed—an opportunity for tension. In the last dialogue passage you wrote double the friction, disagreement, overt hostility or hidden agenda.
22 Exposition, inner monologue, stream of consciousness…whatever you term it, use it to create tension. In the last inner monologue you wrote, insert one insight, question or worry that hasn’t hit you (or your MC) before now.
23 People’s observations—especially of other people—make them interesting. Same is true of characters. What does your MC know about people that no one else does? Create 3 moments when he/she spots that in others.
24 In fiction, obvious emotions rarely need stating. The reader’s already felt them. Find a strong emotion and replace it with a secondary one; find a throw-away moment and infuse it with rich feelings. E.g., “He recoiled in horror!” Ugh. “He wanted to rage, chant a dirge, anything but see this.” Ah.
25 Secondary characters can come and go, making little impression—a shame. Before a new character debuts, give your MC an expectation or fear. Make the reality three times better or worse.
26 MC’s make mistakes but often it doesn’t cost much. Today’s Breakout prompt is designed to hurt. 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.
27 What you don’t know can’t hurt you? Heck, why *wouldn’t* you want to hurt your MC? What secret is your MC keeping? Who is keeping one *from* your MC? Spill the truth at the worst possible time.
28 Why have your characters merely talk when they can snipe, attack, burn or lay waste—verbally, I mean? Set off fireworks between two characters. What’s the biggest skyrocket you can explode for the finale? Go ahead…kaboom!
29 What’s the emotion or experience you’re most afraid to put your MC through? Go there. Do it. Now.
30 What’s the worst thing that happens to your MC? Work backwards. Make it something your MC has spent a lifetime avoiding.
31 What’s the very worst aspect of the main problem your MC faces? Find one way to make it still worse.