For my Polishing the Character Based Novel III class, I've been reading two books on writing the post-modern way: Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass and Story, by Robert McKee. The Maass book is chock full of inside industry tips and advice, and Maass' primary thrust is tension. Tension through public and personal stakes, through conflict and through both text and subtext. The McKee book speaks eloquently about "forces of antagonism," and states that what separates the mediocre from the brilliant is how far the writer is willing to go in exploring the forces of antagonism in his story.
Both books deconstruct popular works in order to give numerous examples of the principles their authors espouse. I really enjoyed both books but whereas the Maass book made me feel somewhat foolish for even attempting to write a novel (let alone two) McKee's book restored my faith in my own project. That is not to say that the Maass book was bad, on the contrary, it challenged me. The McKee book also challenged me but as I read it in the context of my own project, I was delighted to see how many of his principles I had intuitively employed.