For a couple of years now, I’ve been making blog posts about all the novels I’ve been reading. Now it’s finally time write a blog post about a non-fiction book I’ve read. More specifically, it’s a book about writing. So allow me to introduce Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman’s “How Not to Write a Novel”.
Most books about writing are full of tips about how to improve your craft, edit your craft or how to get it published. I have one that’s specifically for writing screenplays, an editing guide and one that’s called Wired for Story that I intend to re-read at some point this year. This book on the other hand focuses on the most mistakes to avoid, and it’s written in a rather hilarious way. It not only focuses on mistakes that will pretty much guarantee that your book won’t get published by any professional means, but provides great examples for each and every one of them.
The guide is broken down into sections: Plot, Character, Style (basics), Style (perspective and voice), World (the book’s setting), Special Effects and Novelty Acts (random stuff not covered in other sections) and How Not to Sell a Novel. Each section opens up with a sarcastic introduction, pretending as if you’re reading this book specifically because you don’t want to get published. Within the sections however, it’s rather direct in what to avoid writing and how to fix these mistakes if you’ve made them. It doesn’t get down into specifics like minor plot holes, spelling and grammar that tend to change from book to book, it mostly deals with bigger picture problems that a lot of writers will have problems with. In some of my earlier drafts the perspectives in my books kept switching without warning, one of the mistakes this book mentions.
There’s not a whole lot else to say about this book without going into specifics. Instead, here are some quotes to give you a taste of How Not to Write a Novel’s sense of humour.
“The male author unthinkingly creates a world in which every single member of society is male except—hey presto!—when the protagonist feels like getting laid. Especially common in science fiction; apparently many writers assume that in the future women will die out.”
“Giving a reader a sex scene that is only half right is like giving her half of a kitten. It is not half as cute as a whole kitten; it is a bloody, godawful mess.”
And my personal favourite:
“The Crepitating Parasol – wherein the author trips over his own cleverness
Pausing in their circumambulation of the verdancy, the duo jocularly noted a bi-canine (that is, a duplication of Fidos, one perched atop deux) in 4/4-time venereal congress amid the rhododenra. The cadence of the connubial kinetics near-mesmerizing, the pooch performance secured the gawkery of Jasper and Jasperia.
‘The rights of spring,’ quoted Homo Sapiens the first (for he was aware …”
Basically that section is talking about an author going way too far with complex words and making their book unreadable. Either that or the reader will think that you don’t even know what those words mean, which might actually be worse.
So yeah, as a writer I love this book. It’s both very helpful in planning or fixing up a book, and it’s an entertaining read on top of that. I would recommend it to almost any writer, whether you’re into fiction, non-fiction or whatever medium you’re writing for. Sure, it’s mostly for novel writers, but most of the concepts apply to other forms. Even editors would enjoy this, at least as a great work of comedy.