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.


Weekend Workshop Part One of How Not to Write a Novel

In the last few weeks I’ve been readingĀ How NOT to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman. The pair are both authors and Mittelmark was an editor. The book is done tongue in check with suggestions and examples on how to make your novel the least publishable humanly possible. I really hope the examples aren’t from novels actually submitted to them for publication but it’s realistically possible…


your plot should be too slight to maintain a novel- example a long discussion on the type of plumbing in a join – because everyone cares about publishing joins.

Start the story as late as possible – example 100s of pages discussing the make up of a town, similar fun includes recounting the entire childhood before starting the protagonist’s adventure at age 45. We need to know his mom gave him grape juice to understand why he’s a paleontologist.

substitute location for plot – who doesn’t love to spend hours looking at a slide show from someone else’s vacation, without the slides.

don’t actually say what the heck it actually is even after saying at nauseoum how wonderful it is for thirty pages.

all main issues are to be glossed over. protagonist’s brother has PTSD, mention it for sure, but then don’t ever address it, why should he get help?

add in a relationship that’s suggestively inappropriate. Give the protag a little thrill while he thinks how much he loves his sister.

Don’t leave your reader worrying. Make sure the pay off comes from out of the blue. Or set it up so your pay off is revealed before your reader ever gets there. We don’t want them concerned about the life and health of the hero.

Be sure to explore every possible avenue. The reader never feels cheated when the novel wastes 60 pages only to drop the path the protagonist was considering.

Reminisce every chance the hero gets. Retell each and every story you already told as it happened, you want to make sure your reader was paying attention. Just in case have your hero do the same thing every day and be sure to describe it carefully. Make quadruply sure by having your hero tell someone about that thing he does every day, every day.

Be sure to paint the protagonist into such a corner you can’t think how to legitimately get him out, then cheat an ending so you are sure to surprise your reader. Further cheats should include the convenient death of a character, omitting crucial steps, or failing to place the win object until the second the main character needs it. All create surprise in the reader.


describe your characters in generic terms, better yet have them walk up to a mirror and describe themselves, especially talking about their breasts. Or you can have them see a picture of someone they know and stop to think what that person looks like. Or they could just compare them to a famous actor, George Clooney or Julia Roberts are fab choices.

make your hero perfect and then accessorize with politics. or sex. everyone loves to hear about your characters non stop masturbation.

be sure to give your hero lots of completely undeveloped side kicks that are disposable and dispose of them quickly, then introduce another one who is indistinguishable from the last one, dispose of this one too.

if all else fails plug up any plots holes with skin deep, appears just when needed, love interest. The warden’s stunning daughter is always walking through the jail unescorted and wants to have random hook up sex with your protagonist.

your villain should only be interested in doing as much evil as possible. Actual reasons are totally unnecessary but he should love his mother to make him seem more realistic.

the villain should reveal his plot to the hero in the most complicated way in the unknown universe possible so that no one even cares, let alone understands.

Tune in next week where I will recap the sections on Style, Research and Special Effects (not for the faint of heart).

I can’t wait to write my next novel using all these incredible suggestions. What do you think?