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How Not to Write a Novel    by Howard Mittelmark & Sandra Newman order for
How Not to Write a Novel
by Howard Mittelmark
Order:  USA  Can
Collins, 2008 (2008)
Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The authors of How Not to Write a Novel (both published writers and one also an editor) offer wannabe writers everywhere a very amusing but also very useful how-NOT-to guide. In it, they present (with entertaining examples) '200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them - A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide'.

In their introduction, they mention 'the innumerable books on writing already available: magisterial tomes from great authors; arc-schemes and plot-generating formulas from less-great authors; inspirational books about releasing the inner artist or freeing the creative mind.' Instead of taking one of these approaches, Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman tell their readers 'the things that editors are too busy rejecting your novel to tell you themselves'. Sections of the book (which can be read straight through or dipped into out of order) cover Plot; Character; Style - The Basics; Style - Perspective and Voice; The World of the Bad Novel; Special Effects and Novelty Acts - Do Not Try This at Home; and How Not to Sell a Novel (i.e. how not to write a query letter). As an example, Character explains 'many tried and true ways of making characters uninteresting, unsympathetic, and lifeless.'

Sage advice is doled out in amusing subtitles (such as 'Wherein the nefarious plot is more complex than string theory') that made me chuckle, with comments like 'Do not write hundreds of pages without knowing what story you really want to tell ... Write hundreds of pages of the story, or else you'll find that what you write will not be shelved in the libraries of the future but will instead form the landfill upon which those libraries are built.' Indeed, this how-NOT-to guide covers a fair number of how-to tips, interspersed through the bad examples, and in sidebars with titles like The Red Herring on the Mantelpiece and The Padded Cell. The latter, which I particularly enjoyed, discusses problems introduced by the cell phone's ubiquity, and how writers get around them (including 'Usurpation of Technology by Demonic Possession, Teenage Hackers, or HAL-like Intelligence'). And don't miss the one on what not to name a character's cat!

Unless you're already a Stephen King or an Elizabeth George, you'll probably recognize at least a few of your own writing mistakes in the hilarious examples populating the pages of How Not to Write a Novel. It's an essential resource for every writer's office bookshelf, but it's also great fun and will help you lighten up when bogged down in the minutiae of the writing life.

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