How Not To Write A Novel
Howard Mittelmark & Sandra Newman
"There are many ways prospective authors routinely sabotage their own work. But why leave it to guesswork? Misstep by misstep, How Not to Write a Novel shows how you can ensure that your manuscript never rises above the level of unpublishable drivel; that your characters are unpleasant, dimensionless versions of yourself; that your plot is digressive, tedious and unconvincing; and that your style is reliant on mangled clichés and sesquipedalian malapropisms. Alternatively, you can use it to identify the most common mistakes, avoid them and actually write a book that works."
I’m not generally a fan of the “How to” book, especially if they deal with subjects where there’s no real right or wrong way to do something. This guide was great however.
It takes the clever approach of not telling you what to do but what not to do. Instead of giving advice that can only ever be vague, it gives a series of examples of things to avoid.
It also manages to avoid being a boring list of examples by infusing the guidelines with a lot of humour. Each rule is illustrated by an example of a potential unpublishable novel, these examples are hilarious. Deliberately over the top and cringe-worthingly awful. They give the absolute worst case example and nobody would ever produce a novel as bad as them (Well, I would hope anyway), but they do a great job of illustrating the advice.
The book is also good in that it doesn’t deal with absolutes. Each rule it gives comes with the proviso that there have been novels published that do the opposite of what they’re telling you, but, these novels are in the minority. While one or two novels written in the second person are published to great acclaim, the vast majority are either hared upon publication, if they’re published at all.
The general rule is, you can ignore this advice if you wish and may well be successful, but it’s going to make your job much more difficult. I found this attitude very refreshing for this type of book.
If I had one criticism for the book, it would be that the format doesn’t always give you an example of how to do something right. Occasionally I’d find the book saying “don’t do that, do this instead” but being a little too vague about what the correct way to do things was. A short example of the preferable method would have been helpful on some occasions.
This was a very interesting and helpful book. Both authors have experience as publishers so have experience of reading unpublished manuscripts and know all too well what makes a publisher throw these manuscripts in the bin. The advice contained within it’s pages is invaluable and while some of the examples are so obvious you would hope nobody would make them, I recognised several that I am guilty of in my own writing.
Whether the book works or not…well, you’ll know If I ever manage to get published.
And trust me….If I get published….you’ll know….