Donald Maass offers a lot of advice on getting your book written well enough to break out in Writing the Breakout Novel. In his first chapter he gives you all the motivation you will need: Scenarios of writers with ongoing careers, already published, but sliding downward. He calls himself the agent who gets the 911 call when the latest novel doesn’t get picked up.

That scary scenario is available for your consideration at the Amazon.com Web page for the book, in “Excerpt.” But the problems which Haass offers up also have solutions in the book. Amazon’s site lets you Look Inside the Haass book, and in a “Surprise Me” click I found this advice on making setting and character merge to lift a book into breakout:

You can deepen the psychology of place in your story by returning to a previously established setting and showing how your character’s perception of it has changed. A useful principle for making place an active character [in your story] is to give your characters an active relationship to place; which in turn means marking your characters’ growth or decline through their relationships to their various surroundings.

Haass has a good handle on how to do this, since he says it’s not as easy as it sounds. “Go inside your characters and allow them a moment to discover their feelings about the place into which you’ve delivered them.”

I’ve been working on this myself in writing Viral Times. The strongest POV character I’ve got, my protagonist, returns to his hometown after many years to find it darker, more desperate — or so he imagines.

But enough about that. Try it yourself. Haass has his good book to help in the experiment.

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