Required Reading for Writers: How NOT to Write a Novel

Buy this book. Seriously.

www.inkthinkerblog.comIf I had found How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them–A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide when I was still in high school, I believe it would have saved hundreds if not thousands of trees from my godawful teenage attempts at writing fiction.

Alas, How Not to Write a Novel is a relatively recent addition to every writer’s must-read list. And thankfully, I still have reams and reams of hysterically funny purple prose that reads like a companion workbook to be read alongside this gem. Reams. Hysterically funny.

Speaking of funny, this book is a laugh-riot that combines snarky instruction with tears-running-down-your-face examples of what the what-not-to-do looks like. Oh, and are those examples ever dead on. There were a few times that I was a little creeped out because the demonstration the gave in the book so closely resembled something I wrote years ago.

In fact, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t committed at least half of the mortal sins in this what-not-to-do guide. For instance, part 1 covers plot, and is subtitled “Not just a bunch of stuff that happens.” Whoa, whoa, whoa, you mean the events in a book should be somehow connected? I totally didn’t get that memo until I was like 17, once I was well into my second novel (which no, you can’t see, thanks for asking).

If I’m being really honest, I’d guess I’ve probably done all of these cringe-worthy things in some work or another. Like:

  • “The Long Runway” (in which a character’s childhood is recounted to no purpose);
  • “The Average Day” (where mundane detail fails to bring a character to life);
  • “Jimbo Knows Me Better than I Know Myself” (wherein a friend character is introduced to no purpose);
  • “The List of Ingredients” (wherein lists substitute for description);
  • “I Complete Me” (wherein the novel is a work of auto-hagiography);
  • “Then Mel Gibson Raised His Mighty Broadsword” (in which the author unconsciously appropriates); and
  • “A Confederacy of Shills” (wherein characters laugh disproportionately).

And so many more. Fortunately (for all of us, believe me), I did manage to pick up on this stuff relatively early in my writing career. Which makes it all the more amusing when I look back over early drafts of things I abandoned because they were just to ridiculous to continue working on.

I will be requiring How Not to Write a Novel as a prerequisite for every book editing client I accept from now on. Some of them will take it personally (hallelujah) and some of them will take one look at it and decide that I totally suck the biggest suck that ever sucked (because they will take it personally in a different way). Either way, I’m happy. We must rid the world of writing like this:

Men were so difficult! At first Jack seemed to be so into her, but now Melinda didn’t know WHAT to think! He’d seemed so cold when she ran into him in the alley the other night, surrounded by his work associates, who were all such rough men!!

Perhaps she was doing the Wrong Thing, she thought as she headed toward their rendezvous by the abandoned wharves. How did she know he wasn’t up to something–something–UNCOUTH?! It was getting dark, and the doorways were all full of Loose Women in their paint and cheap scent. She HATED that type, the type of woman who sold her most Precious Asset that was meant to be sacred to her husband!

Suddenly! she spotted Jack, and her heart melted–like a heart that had been frozen but then was subjected to heat. “JACK! It’s ME! I’m so glad to see you!” she said, and ran to him, All Her Doubts Forgotten.

— From”I Mean This!! It’s Important!!” (wherein the author punctuates hysterically)
p. 110, How Not to Write a Novel

Whether you intend to hire me as an editor or not, please go buy this book. If you never plan to pen another word as long as you live, you’re exempt. But if you fancy yourself a writer of any kind and intend to use that, ahem, skill, get How Not to Write a Novel now. You’ll be glad, and so will all of your future readers — from your family (you know you torture them with your painful early drafts) to your critique group (they will REALLY thank you, trust me) to your future publisher, who frankly will not exist without your using this book to eliminate all elements of oh-my-God-this-has-to-be-a-joke-because-no-real-book-is-this-bad from your writing.

Trust me on this one: You need to own this book.

Contents Copyright © 2006-2014 Kristen King

5 comments… add one
  • Miranda Sep 18, 2009

    Great stuff. I’m going to buy this book. Just to read it. Although I am scared that my adolescent attempts at fiction will also be well-represented.
    .-= Miranda´s last blog ..Friday Fun Video: ETrade Baby Shankapotomus =-.

  • Caina Fuller Sep 18, 2009

    Thanks so much for the info on this book. I’m off to buy it!
    .-= Caina Fuller´s last undefined ..If you register your site for free at =-.

  • Damaria Senne Sep 19, 2009

    ROFL. thanks for the recommendation. I’m definitely going to find out if a copy is available locally.
    .-= Damaria Senne´s last blog ..Do Children Need To Learn How To Use Maps? =-.

  • John Stipa Sep 19, 2009

    Thanks for posting this, Kristen. I want to get it to see how many of the “nots” I’m doing ;-)

  • Lori Sep 21, 2009

    Well I don’t know – how can we know her heart is melting unless she gives us the scientific viewpoint? That’s rough, man. You know, like a rough man. Uncouth and well, rough. That’s important!!!!!!

    Pardon me while I go give away something sacred – my crumpet with lemon curd.
    .-= Lori´s last blog ..Banding Together =-.

Leave a Comment