Weekend Workshop

This barely qualifies as a weekend workshop worthy book, but since I skipped a weekend or two and have nothing for the upcoming weekend, I’ll post it. LOL.

I picked up Write Your Own Mystery Story by Tish Farrell when it caught my eye while I was picking up a different book on writing from the shelf next to it. I thought I might find some useful tid bits for the kids version of Nano to Piblish which I may or may not teach at the coop next year.

As I have found with out “junior” how to books, it’s a little insulting to kids. This one calls it a burger joint rather than the Malt Shop but it’s still out of date and vaguely condescending. “Write” takes a youngster through a generalized plan, develop, write, edit, and publish run down. Guess no one needs my class after all. LOL. But it’s really, really general. Really general. Although it does say not to use the word really or very for that matter and to edit out all extraneous adverbs. (Is there anyone who hasn’t been influenced by King on adverbs and the road to hell?)

The book leans heavily on plot. On working it all out ahead of time. Plotting each scene. Fully knowing your characters before you start. And I maintain you need to leave room. Room for your characters to develop as you write, for the characters to grow. You can’t plan their growth arc. Anymore than I can plan my six year old’s growth arc. And you need to leave room for story to find it’s own way, for your characters who are growing and changing to show you the cool stuff that matters.

I did make note of some suggested writing exercises and then modify them for my class notes for next year. I’ll tell you about one here. I took a book suggestion and decided I would have my class invent a character and provide a short sketch of the character, just three lines. Then I would throw those into a hat. Each student would randomly select a character. Then I would have another hat of situations I had created and the students would randomly select one of those. Each student would explain either how the character got into the situation or how they are going to get out of it. I think it will be fun.

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?