43. How Not to Write a Novel. 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them--A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman
"...if you have perversely refused to use the lessons offered in this book as we inteded, and instead avoided each of the mistakes we describe, perhaps you now find yourself a published author. In that case, our follow-up book, How Not to Make a Living Wage, will be indispensable."
Let that quote act as a word of warning: this book is a total smart-ass. And I love it.
Especially in the world of fiction the ground rules for what is proper and what is not, both grammatically and topics-wise, keep on changing. Back in the early 1900s you could only refer to a sex scene by having the characters disappear for a while and then return again. Now, that kind of a treatment would seem awfully prudish. Style-wise, if you try to write a work of fiction by following Strunk&White, you'll soon be in trouble. This book thus earns a tip of my hat: it acknowledges that there is a multitude of ways to write good novels, but there are only a handful of ways that will definitely have your prospective editor throw your novel out the window in disgust.
Also note: the authors are actual editors who have gone through piles and piles of terrible writing (and chucked them out), so they know what they are talking about.
The book is written as a guide to how to never get published, ranging from examples of boring setups, flat or too perfect/too disgusting characters to airing out weird conspiracy theories with no connection to the plot or never doing any background work about the people or settings the author writes about. Each section begins with a brief description of the possible downfalls, and then introduces all of them via examples written by the authors. Which usually are, like I said, very smart-ass and full of bad writing beyond just the problem they illustrate. A beginning of one such example that made me almost spill my coffee:
Candida couldn't help but think that her condition was a mixed blessing...
Yup. You'll get a kick out of all the names and the misuse of foreign words in these examples. Their headings also gave me a chuckle. Some examples:
"Failing the Turing Test" (writing a character who shows no emotions)
"'And One Ring to Bind Them!', Said the Old Cowpoke" (about changing genre in midstream)
"The Gum on the Mantelpiece" (of course a reference to Chekhov's gun)
Also, there is a special section called "If There Must Be a Cat, Do Not for the Love of God Name It..."
I'd highly recommend this to any unpublished author for the insight it gives, any published author for double-checks and sighs of relief and finally, for everyone who just likes funny writing. Also, this should be required reading for anyone who tries their hand at the Bulwer-Lytton "It was a dark and stormy night... competition!
6 months ago