Sunday, August 8, 2010
How Not To Write A Novel
There are many, many informative books on what to do when it comes to writing and publication. In its own way, this is one of them – but it sets off its good advice with deliberately terrible faux-excerpts, biting sarcasm and hilarious commentaries.
How Not to Write a Novel, by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman, contains more than 200 mistakes made by writers. Each has its own little section with a title and subtitle e.g. A Novel Called It : Wherein an abusive parent exists or Assembly Instructions: In which the sex is drained of sex. It’s then followed by an Atlanta Nights-esque example to illustrate the issue and a little description of why this is a problem and how it can be corrected.
This is something of a PG-13 book and contains a few four-letter words, but if you don’t mind that, it’s blunt, accurate and hilarious. It draws on examples from Anton Chekhov to South Park, and is never dull. When I read books on writing, I tend to skip any sections on spelling and grammar, but I read this from cover to cover and tried not to laugh out loud on the subway.
There are also little sidebars such as “The Reader Will Not Like Your Hero Just Because” (he meditates, he has green eyes, his maid is an unpaid consultant in his detective business, etc). But my favorite is the pop quiz on characterization. Select the answer most likely to reflect your work:
The teenager took
A. our burger order
B. a gateway drug
C. umbrage at the teacher’s assertions about the Balkan situation
D. his turn flensing the giant.
Revealing his nefarious plot, he spoke
A. in a German accent
D. to his hand puppet, Popo.
You can probably tell that A and B answers are stereotypes and D answers have the opposite problem. This book would be a great addition to any writer’s library. Whenever I get stuck on a manuscript or take it all too seriously, I flip this open, read a section like “Failing the Turing Test” and feel a lot better.