StoryMasters Workshop - Donald Maass

Last week the Muses attended the StoryMasters workshop in Houston and this week we're going to share a little of what we learned. Of course, there is no way we could ever represent the incredible experience and expertise shared with a short blog post, but each of us will share our own individual highlights.

My favorite day (and by far the most exhausting) was Donald Maass' discussion on emotional intensity. He spent most of the seven hour talk asking questions. He started with this, "What is it that moves readers' hearts? What is it that makes characters more real than we actually know? Emotions. Feelings. That's what connects us to characters. In order to create that effect we need to open an emotional landscape for our characters to walk through."

Then came the questions intended to pry open the door to that emotional landscape. I warn you. This process isn't for the faint of heart. Each of these questions could take days and/or pages of journal writing to fully explore. The questions aren't easy to address, but if you can bring these specific, accurate emotions to your characters they will become genuine and real.

What is the feeling that you are most afraid to put on the page?
What is scary for you to express?
What have you never said to anyone?
What hurts the most?
What is the joy that is so perfect that you are afraid to say it?
What is it that you think people would not understand or reject or turn away from?
What aspect of this feeling is the most fearful and shameful or silly?
Where are you when this feeling overtakes you? Is it the images you have in your mind?
When does this feeling occur?
Is it associated with something specific? Time? Holiday? Event? Is there a person that provokes this feeling or it is directed toward?
What feeling is it that makes you shake? Makes your hand tremble? Brings you up against your weakness? When does it occur? Who provokes it?
What is the strongest emotion your protagonist feels in this scene. When did you feel this?
What was the color, shape, texture?
What would happen if you did that in every scene?
What is your protagonist deepest childhood hurt?
What have they never told anyone? Worst mistake?
What do they least want to accept?
What do they know about themselves?
What do they cling to the hardest?

So what was my biggest Ah-ha of the weekend? The emotional landscape where your characters live should be real, even if your characters are not.

It takes the story to a whole new level.


In my opinion, Donald Maass is the most brilliant writing teacher of the century - hands down! I love his stuff. So *jealous* you got to hear him in person! So what is his personality like? Just curious!

Those are some deep and intensely probing questions. No wonder it was exhausting.

Thanks for sharing some of the Donald Maass information with us.

You could write a book exploring that emotional landscape!

I guess that's the point. :)

I'd describe him as quiet, intense -- but very approachable. You'd never pick him out of crowd as an incredibly successful agent and author.

Sorry, Kimberley, for the mispelling.

No problem, Donna! :-) And thanks for the description.

Isn't it funny how we go all *fan-girl* over a writer and their work?!?

Ah, such great and terrible questions! Terrible as in terrifying to answer and powerful to put on the page. I'm so glad that Don decided to spend so much energy teaching. How many agents do that? Or have such a gift for it?

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