Weekend Workshop Part Two of How NOT to Write a Novel

Amusing advice from Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman, written in a tongue and cheek style designed to make your next novel totally garbage. Last week I covered Plot and Characters, onto Style, Research, and Special Effects.


flaunt your vocabulary, use the biggest words you know. Extra points if you don’t actually know the words and use them incorrectly. “The harder you try to be clever, the more momentum you will have when you arrive at that line(the one between clever and stupid), and the less likely you are to notice when you cross it.”

use common expressions, but change them just a little to give your reader a thrill. “She was the apples and oranges of his eye.” Fabulous. Don’t worry a thing about your reader falling out of your story while he tries to figure out just what you mean. All the cliches you add in will carry you through, as many as you can fit in there, right?

The exclamation point is your friend. And you can never have too many friends!!!

Substitute synopsis for description or lists. Lists are good! Your reader really wants to know every book your protag has on her shelves!

if you have a strong knowledge of legalese by all means, write in that. Better yet, write ad copy instead of a novel. Then your marketing will be done ahead of time.

don’t consider the fracturing of time to be a bad thing. No one wants to know what actually took place between finding the bomb and sipping margaritas on the beach later. Go back and forth using flashback/flashforward/present without any tags to notify the reader in a sort of collage of words. People like to have to think to figure out what they are reading. This won’t make them fall out of your novel at all.

write only your characters reactions to their world, don’t describe the world, that would be giving too much away.

Never, ever use the word said. Your dialogue tags should explain how things are said and what your characters are feeling every time. If you don’t know what your character is feeling then tell your reader what they should think of your elegant prose.

Use the same voice for all your characters. This will give your novel a sense of confusion, which readers love. Be sure to include all of their conversations, even the every day casual phrases.

Use your characters only as they are needed. If Julia and George want to have a private conversation in front of all the other actors from Oceans 11, go ahead and pretend Brad and Matt aren’t there.

make sure your characters announce things about themselves in conversation. It’s the only way your reader will know Julia is an art historian. And Julia should say this to George, just because they were married, doesn’t mean George knows what Julia does for a living.

If you need to bring in a non English speaker, just use his native tongue for the easy words you already know. Who has time for google translate?

head jump point of view whenever you need to. continuity if for amateurs. If you need George to know Julia is thinking without her saying it, go ahead and make him psychic, but don’t explain the new ability, it’s more fun when it’s a game.

don’t give any thought to the tense of your novel. Change tense as you need to, at will. Or use a single tense no matter the dictates of the English language.

If you’re having trouble with plot or action, substitute emotion, the more dramatic the better. If you find yourself short of words describe every scene by going through each of your protag’s five senses. Heck, add a sixth or seventh sense just for fun. If you’re really pressed for words you can reassure your reader that the protagonist still thinks what you already told them he thought last paragraph. Keep reassuring them.


allow your passion for shoes, cars, or guns to completely over ride the action or dialogue the scene could have had. Describe all locations as blandly and generically as possible so the reader can imagine your novel as their favored location.


Don’t bother to do any. No one cares if there were cherry lollipops at the court of Charlemagne. Just have people say what you like and use whatever best fits your story. It’s your story after all.

Dirty, Dirty Author

when you want to talk about naughty things but you don’t want people to judge you for your opinions, just create a protag who disapproves of everything sees and everywhere he goes. But make sure he goes there a lot and you describe everything repeatedly so the reader really gets how much you disapprove of this type of situation.

if you find yourself unable to express what you really mean, just borrow from someone else; a popular song, or poem, or even a quote from a popular author who’s done all the hard work for you.

Whatever belief you wish to espouse with your novel, you should go right ahead. Who needs a soap box when you have the published word. And speak in the language of those already in the know, people love to learn, and holding a dictionary while reading a book is always a good way to expand one’s mind.

Special Effects

Sex: all genres require sex scenes, it’s all part of life. Describe in lurid detail. And make it imaginative. If it doesn’t further the plot, all the better, sex for sex sake, every time.

Humor: make ’em laugh. Old jokes are the best, as your reader will have already heard it, possibly from their grandmother, and it will make them comfortable with the material. make sure your characters laugh uproariously at all humor in the book so the reader will laugh with them.

Postmodernism: defined as referring to the author within the work or to the work as a novel within the novel. Good luck to you, it’s a bitch to do it well.


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