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
B. German
C. germanely
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.


fairyhedgehog said...

It sounds like a really good book.

Abby said...

Sounds like a hilarious book! I really want to read it right now.

Maria Zannini said...

I read this book last year and I would not have bought it had it not been given to me by the publisher to review.

The information is good (especially for new writers) but I found the sarcasm tiring after a while. I just wanted them to get to the point without trying to make every point 'entertaining'.

I love funny books, but this one came across as condescending. I felt the authors were trying too hard.

I much preferred HOOKED by Les Edgerton.

Vegetarian Cannibal said...

Sounds funny, lol.

Murr Brewster said...

I'm writing my first novel without advice of any kind. When I get finished, perhaps I'll be asked to write the sequel to this one.

Mary Witzl said...

I'm praying that I'm past all the worst stuff now, but I'll bet I could have given them some real pointers ten years ago.

I want to read this novel! I want to smile smugly at all the stuff I never got away with.

Lillian C. said...

Sounds like a good read. (To be honest, as soon as you mentioned Atlanta Nights, I knew I had to read this book. ^.^) I will definitely try it out.

I've always been of the opinion that you can learn more from mistakes/bad writing than you could necessarily learn from good writing or advice on good writing. Not in every case, but in quite a lot. (That's why I attempted to read Sword of Shannara, but I digress.)

Thanks for mentioning the book. I'm totally checking this out!

writtenwyrdd said...

I have that one on my shelf. I haven't read thoroughly, but what I've seen seems like great advice.

Also, I hope you don't mind my mentioning it here, but I thought you might like to participate. I'm running a flash fiction contest on my blog with cool prizes. Details are here: