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How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them—A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide

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Many writing books offer sound advice on how to write well. This is not one of those books. On the contrary, this is a collection of terrible, awkward, and laughably unreadable excerpts that will teach you what to avoid—at all costs—if you ever want your novel published.

In How Not to Write a Novel, authors Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman distill their 30 years combined experience in teaching, editing, writing, and reviewing fiction to bring you real advice from the other side of the query letter. Rather than telling you how or what to write, they identify the 200 most common mistakes unconsciously made by writers and teach you to recognize, avoid, and amend them. With hilarious "mis-examples" to demonstrate each manuscript-mangling error, they'll help you troubleshoot your beginnings and endings, bad guys, love interests, style, jokes, perspective, voice, and more. As funny as it is useful, this essential how-NOT-to guide will help you get your manuscript out of the slush pile and into the bookstore.

262 pages, Paperback

First published April 1, 2008

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About the author

Howard Mittelmark

9 books86 followers
I moved to NYC in the eighties to be where they made books, and I've been working in publishing, either writing or editing, pretty much ever since. About ten years ago, I took everything I figured out reading hundreds, possibly thousands, of published and unpublished novels, and wrote How Not To Write A Novel with Sandra Newman. It's sort of an encyclopedia of mistakes every beginning writer makes. It's very funny. Really. You should take my word for it. However, if you're just not that kind of person, you can read some excerpts at the website. I can't guarantee you'll write a good novel if you read it, but it would be very hard not to write a better novel.

I used to review a lot: many, many books for Kirkus Reviews, and also for newspapers, including the New York Times and the Washington Post. So I have all these reviews sitting on my hard drive, and I thought I'd post some of them here, which I'm mentioning to explain why some of my reviews read exactly like reviews that were written for Kirkus.

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5 stars
1,336 (34%)
4 stars
1,502 (38%)
3 stars
758 (19%)
2 stars
201 (5%)
1 star
58 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 681 reviews
Profile Image for Michael Herrman.
Author 1 book14 followers
August 22, 2014
Reading this book, I tossed my head wildly about in exuberant agreement. My cobalt blue eyes rolled as my long, golden locks bounced upon the delicate curves of my hard, bulging shoulders. "These examples are awful!" I extolled.

"Truly," my snarf-muffin, Suzy, bubbled helpfully. "As you know, hating bad writing is a very good thing to do; and as the Schlarm power flows through your twenty thousand year-old veins, I know that you hate it very much."

"The power of Schlarm," I exploded, with a winning smile, my teeth gleaming like icebergs, "it has made me write very good!!! That, and this very book which is almost alike unto the book that I almost wrote in the summer of 1547. You remember that book, my love?"

"1547?" she queried, quizzically. "How can this be!"

"As you know," I pontificated, "we are vampires; save we drink no blood, but take only sparkling wine with cheesy biscuits."

Suzy pouted and her sex boiled over. She was of such slamglamorous loveliness that I wept and I bawled with passion.

Damned straight. Read it, don't do it.
Profile Image for Valeriu Gherghel.
Author 6 books1,303 followers
April 28, 2023
Chiar dacă autorii (Howard Mittelmark și Sandra Newman) nu ne învață cum să compunem un roman demn de premiul Pulitzer, e bine să citim exemplele lor. Sînt foarte amuzante. Și rîsul poate fi instructiv, atîta vreme cît îi identificăm pricina.

Sigur, nu e nici un secret, scrisul se învață prin exercițiu zilnic, silitor, tenace. Înveți să gîndești gîndind (cf. Roata plăcerilor, p.36), înveți să mori murind, înveți să scrii scriind etc. Dar prozatorul contemporan nu mai poate fi „ignorantul” de odinioară, luat în stăpînire de forța divină a Inspirației (cu I mare neapărat). Talentul, înzestrarea naturală nu sînt niciodată suficiente pentru a redacta un roman bun. În prezent, prozatorul știe precis ce face și meditează asupra procedeelor narative: nu mai este naiv și sentimental.

Autorii discută prin exemple hilare cîteva probleme foarte importante în arta narativă:
1. Intriga (ce se întîmplă în carte, pățaniile),
2. Personajul (cine pățește ceea ce pățește),
3. Stilul (cum să așezi adjectivul alături de substantiv, cum să suprimi cuvintele inutile),
4. Perspectiva naratorului (punctul de vedere, cine povestește, cui, la ce persoană),
5. Cum arată un roman kitsch,
6. De ce prozatorii nu se pricep să povestească o scenă erotică (pentru asta s-a înființat „Bad Sex in Fiction Award”, cel mai puțin rîvnit dintre toate premiile posibile), a se vedea exemplul de la paginile 276-277;
7. Cum să redactezi o scrisoare către editor.

În Cum să NU scrii un roman, autorii dovedesc (în negativ) că știi realmente să scrii bine abia atunci cînd poți compune deliberat exemple cît mai tîmpite. Nu-i așa simplu. Într-un cuvînt, o carte foarte utilă...
Profile Image for Jeanette (Ms. Feisty).
2,179 reviews1,910 followers
August 26, 2011
I don't know why I find Mittelmark and Newman so entertaining, but they crack me up. My default setting is silliness, and these two are good at silly, while also providing a lot of very helpful information. I loved Read This Next, so I decided to give this one a go, even though I have no intention of even pretending to have novelistic aspirations. I enjoy books like this because they help me define why some books/authors work for me and others just make me want to stab someone.

The only reason I'm not giving this five stars is because I have not tested it for its intended purpose, which is to help people write better novels. Nor will I ever be testing that feature, so I go with four stars. I loved the book, though, and read a lot of it out loud to myself in the wee hours when I couldn't sleep. If it were really possible to laugh your butt off, I'd now be buttless.

CAVEAT READER/WRITER: This book is not for everyone. The authors go to extremes with their fake writing samples and wise-assery in order to make their points. If you are someone who takes everything literally and doesn't get the value of hyperbole and humor used instructively, you will probably complain that the book is too flip or sarcastic to be useful. And I pity you, because your life is probably mighty dull.

Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,397 followers
July 8, 2016
I was going to give this 4 stars, but within the last five pages there was a joke that made me laugh so hard I awarded an additional star. Review to come.
Profile Image for Micah Adams.
11 reviews5 followers
May 20, 2008
A common sense guide to avoiding the missteps committed by the novice. Its presented in a clear, fast-paced and entertaining way.
People who critique this book as "too basic" are probably still convinced that they have something original to add to the literary canon, or they are MFA's that are so inundated with literary criticism they couldn't recognize an interesting story if it bit them in the ass.
Profile Image for Ova - Excuse My Reading.
475 reviews360 followers
September 10, 2019
This is just a brilliant read- not only for the writer, but as a reader I very much enjoyed this and chuckled so much...
Profile Image for Ben Aaronovitch.
Author 158 books11.6k followers
July 15, 2012
I read this book, twice, wrote a novel and now I'm a successful published novelist. This is the single most useful book on how to write a novel ever written, ever, by anyone in the entire universe, and you dismiss it to your cost.
Profile Image for Kogiopsis.
763 reviews1,478 followers
August 31, 2011
I was going to give this book two stars and call it basic, full of rookie mistakes, until I hit the last few chapters and realized that there are people making these mistakes and still getting published. (You may have heard of them. A great number of them are vomiting partially digested versions of Twilight into the YA market.)

Given that realization, I had to let go of the review I'd been planning. Here, instead, is the one I'm making up on the spot.

I, personally, didn't learn anything from this book. Most of the things it had to say are things I've either absorbed or been taught over time. That's not to say that there aren't people who will learn from this book - on the contrary, doubtless there are many of them. Some of the content it gets into later means I probably wouldn't give this to a middle schooler, but many of them could doubtless stand to benefit.

Without hesitation, I would send this to a couple of published authors. Alexanda Adornetto is first and foremost among them, because she does pretty much everything wrong in the Theme section. Becca Fitzpatrick would get a copy too, and I hear tell Jennifer Murgia could use a bit of help as well.

Given that authors are fucking up as described in this book and still getting published, though, one must wonder how valid the advice herein is. Only time will tell.

Now, the humor aspect - I didn't laugh. Not once. Maybe that has more to do with me than with Mittelmark and Newman; take it as you will. I do think that the book would have been funnier if it stuck to its title theme and presented every horrible idea/technique as if it were pure gold sure to incite a twenty-house bidding war. The little sarcastic bits at the beginning of each section really didn't do enough. This is a fairly straightforward writing guide wrapped up in a thin shawl of original concept.

I was also continually frustrated with the examples. I understand that they were supposed to be egregious, but I feel like that makes them less helpful; rather than showing the subtle ways flaws creep into a work, they exaggerated everything beyond the point of believabilty. Also, some of them were so unmitigatedly bad that I had to set the book down in the midst of reading them. They're only half a page each! That's just too awful.

It is a quick read, though, so that's a plus. I can't say I recommend this book, but if you choose to read it it won't take up much of your time. However, whatever time you spend on it might be better spent on TV Tropes or, better yet, reading The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.
Profile Image for Jonathan Peto.
252 reviews46 followers
December 20, 2015
The subtitle promises 200 classic mistakes. I’ll take their word for it, because I did not count them. Those mistakes are grouped into parts, such as plot, character and style. Each mistake includes an example, followed by commentary. Each example and comment usually runs only a page or two, so the book is an excellent way to tune into writing at the beginning of a session.

It is also funny, very snarky. One of the funniest things is that I often recognized the mistakes, having seen them in other people’s writing, such as when I’ve joined peer critiques on various writing websites. While reading this book, I actually developed some sympathy for agents and others who have to wade through a slush pile, because I can always opt out of reading peer writing on a website, but they have to push on in their search for that rare gem.

If you’ve honestly been working hard at it, you’re probably not making most of these mistakes, though we’re all different, and as I said, I’ve seen most of them made. Sometimes though, I came across something that was hilarious but in the back of my mind I wondered, mmmm, could I be accused of this? Or more accurately, could some agent or editor misinterpret my intentions and believe that such and such a mistake exists in my writing when, of course, it doesn’t?

So the biggest problem with this book is you might be so amused by the examples and sharp, witty banter that you fail to notice a lesson worth taking to heart...
Profile Image for Juho Pohjalainen.
Author 5 books252 followers
July 4, 2019
It's actually rather depressing how many authors not only get published, but also become celebrated bestsellers, despite gleefully disregarding so many rules outlined in this book. So as useful and indispensable as it may seem, the real world continues to thwart it. Depressing, really.

At least it's funny.
Profile Image for Jake Goretzki.
729 reviews114 followers
March 21, 2014
Right. While this book is perfectly upfront that it's about showing mistakes (not successes) and is really more 'humour section' material than lit crit, it could actually have been quite a bit better. This is not to say that there aren't perfectly valid points here (e.g. non-native speakers of English tend to learn words like 'Yes' and 'Hello' quite quickly, Poirot).

A lot of the time though, it's stating the bleeding obvious and seems directed at a kind of wretchedly deluded E.L. James vampire-zombie-erotica aspirant who I'm pretty sure wouldn't read this kind of book in the first place. I may be wrong. There's a section on 'straw men' and this one's full of straw men.

As a result, it often comes across as, frankly, quite patronising and gleefully bullying (to the extent where I found myself wanting to ask how many decent novels have you written, chaps?).

I do get the idea of using 'made up' paragraphs of bad writing to illustrate a point, but a lot of these are so exaggeratedly crass and pulpy, they leave you thinking 'Christ, but nobody is proposing that'. The whimsical made-up hero names in them really started to grate - all that "Colonel Soy Lattay touched down on Planet Starbux and checked his smoothie monitor...". Ah, shaddap.

I'm not ultimately sure the premise works that well: I think we learn more from good writers writing beautifully and appallingly (see Updike's widely cited stinker 'Terrorist') than we do from parodying bad submissions. The near-misses are more revealing than the total goofs.

So, well meant - but a little tiresome.
Profile Image for Libby May.
Author 4 books86 followers
January 11, 2018
Ok so I pretty much knew all the tips in this book just because I read so much. Blah Blah Blah.
It was super inappropriate. Almost every example clip was a lust or suggestive scene. It was very unnecessary for the content of the book.
I didn't end up finishing it, although I did read the little headers for most of the tips, to get brushed up.
I wouldn't recommend this book. Most of the stuff the author blabs about you can learn simply by reading.
Profile Image for Ryan.
61 reviews3 followers
June 15, 2008
A nice, light-hearted, & witty guide on some of the more disappointing mistakes beginning writers can make when writing a novel. Most of the sections were pretty obvious (duh, who would do THAT?), but others seemed eerily familiar. Problems include: "Where the author tells you what you think of his dialogue," "Wherein the author flaunts his vocabulary," "In which every single last solitary word of conversation is included," "Wherein there is a cat," "Where the character must be in front of a mirror to know what she looks like," "Wherein lists substitute for description," and my favorite "When the author thinks he's too good for the word 'said,'" which I'll quote below:

"It's funny," he smirked, "now that I look back from safety."
"Funny?" she interrogated.
"Hilarious!" he expostulated.
"Surely not?" she doubted.
"But how little you know!" he exclaimed.
"Says you!" she objected.
"That's the last I am willing to say," he concluded.
"Some listener you turned out to be!" she snorted.

If I ever do write something someday, hopefully I'll remember the overall lesson of this book: Write well.
Profile Image for Emma Sea.
2,184 reviews1,064 followers
June 20, 2014
Made me laugh = +infinity invisible stars.
May I just say, JR Ward does everything in here.
Profile Image for نسرين غندورة.
Author 1 book455 followers
November 18, 2017
كتاب مفيد يتناول الكثير من الأخطاء الشائعة التي يقع فيها الروائيون غالبا. للأسف غرق الكتاب في كوب قهوة ساخن، انسكب فوقه.

إذا أردت أن أنظر إلى الجانب المليء، فيجب أن أقول أن رائحته أصبحت زكية.
Profile Image for Lord Beardsley.
377 reviews
March 18, 2009
Hilarious, true, brilliant. The only thing I don't understand is despite all of the ways one will never get published, Stephanie Meyer was able to use tenfold. I guess sometimes you can't take everything for gospel...
Profile Image for Jess of the Silver Sword.
25 reviews9 followers
July 29, 2014
In a lot of contemporary novels, there is often an underdog protagonist, who's in about 8th grade. He is often labelled a 'nerd' or a 'loser' of some sort by a bully. This bully goes and beats upon our unfortunate protagonist daily. Everyone laughs at the poor protagonist, whether because they are scared of the bully or believe it's funny to see some poor kid get crushed under the tyrannical hand of this insecure, mocking dude. Of course, no one suspects that the bullied kid is the Chosen One/ Guardian of the Land of Zerdurner/ has the gift of Lendenshernern, which will guide him on his epic hero's journey to find his destiny.
Unfortunately, if your personal hero's journey involves, I don't know, writing a novel, this book will not play the part of the kindly old mentor to help guide you in your journey, but that of the bully who mocks your worthlessness and tells you that you'll never amount to anything.
Yeah. It was that bad.
I'd wanted to read this book for a really long time and I was super excited about it. At first I really liked it, but as I tried to find the example mistakes I identified with so I could fix them in my writing, I realized I wasn't making any of the mistakes. In fact, the mistakes given were super basic. It became very clear they were talking down to the reader. Then I came to realize that this book wasn't intended to help writers become better; it was to make fun of writers in general. It comes up with examples and proceeds to make fun of them to the highest degree. A lot of the paragraphs seemed to mock, "If you've ever made this mistake in your life, it's a sign from the cosmos you were never meant to be a writer." ....excuse me? Whatever happened to the whole concept of The Professionals Were Once Amateurs Too? Ya pompous book....!This mocking tone was accompanied by an extremely annoying use of sarcasm. This book wasn't just dripping with sarcasm; it was continually being boiled in it. I understand that sarcasm can be used to be funny and can emphasize the point. But these authors' supercilious use of sarcasm actually diluted their meaning. It was hard to tell if they actually believed something was worth writing or not because of their immature sarcasm explosions. My last complaint is that this book was extremely dirty, I thought unnecessarily so for a *nonfiction writing* book. About 3/4 of their made up examples involved some sort of sex scene (and no, I'm not including in this fraction the section that talked about how to not write a sex scene).Their repeated usage of these dirty examples also diluted the meaning of what they were actually getting at. They could have used a non-sex scene to illustrate their example, and it would have made their point a lot clearer (or actually made it known!). Gag.
People say this is a funny book, but to me, it's only a humorous book if you're either a huge sarcasm aficionado or you like to make fun of other people's writing. If that sounds like you, by all means, please read this book. But if you're looking for a book that will actually teach you how to write and to write well (and not try to destroy your will in the process), skip this one.
Profile Image for Katri.
138 reviews44 followers
August 31, 2009
This is priceless. The writers go through all sort of ways in which you can write a novel badly, from flat characters to non-existent or implausible plots to unintelligible or ridiculous writing, and illustrate each problem with an extract of writing which exemplifies and parodies these mistakes. Their style is so hilarious that I couldn't stop laughing out loud, and it was so addictive I gobbled up the book in one evening. You can definitely recognise many flaws that you have seen in bad writing of others - and then at some point you suddenly realise that the few paragraphs you just read are only an exaggerated example of your own writing. Say, when I read the example text about writing every single passing mood and feeling of the characters into your narrative, I suddenly realised many of my relationship stories might be in need of editing.

Nobody can commit all the mistakes in this book at once because some of them are contradictory, but I'd say most of us commit some of them to a greater or lesser degree. The good thing is that because you're laughing heartily all the time while reading the book, you forget to feel bad about discovering that something you have written is actually rather ridiculous or unreadable or at least boring.

All writers can benefit from this book, I'm sure, and probably anyone who's ever suffered from reading bad fiction will also take pleasure from reading the hilarious examples in this book. (Sadly, there were a few examples where the writing reminded me vividly of certain published and extremely popular books, which means that even this book isn't a foolproof guide to writing an unpublishable novel... But probably it works in most cases.)
Profile Image for Olethros.
2,617 reviews429 followers
July 9, 2014
-Por momentos, hilarante, de verdad.-

Género. Ensayo.

Lo que nos cuenta. La pareja de autores, con cierta experiencia en diferentes ámbitos del mundillo editorial, nos muestran un buen número de situaciones con las que se han enfrentado al leer libros, valorar manuscritos o corregir obras, con la doble intención de llamar la atención sobre cosas que los escritores deberían tratar de evitar por el bien de la obra y que el lector de este libro pase un buen rato.

¿Quiere saber más de este libro, sin spoilers? Visite:

Profile Image for Olethros.
2,617 reviews429 followers
July 9, 2014
-Por momentos, hilarante, de verdad.-

Género. Ensayo.

Lo que nos cuenta. La pareja de autores, con cierta experiencia en diferentes ámbitos del mundillo editorial, nos muestran un buen número de situaciones con las que se han enfrentado al leer libros, valorar manuscritos o corregir obras, con la doble intención de llamar la atención sobre cosas que los escritores deberían tratar de evitar por el bien de la obra y que el lector de este libro pase un buen rato.

¿Quiere saber más de este libro, sin spoilers? Visite:

Profile Image for Kathleen.
Author 1 book150 followers
June 28, 2017
The ingenious format of catchy title-exaggerated sample-funny explanation started to wear on me about half way through (200 examples is a lot to present this way). But I kept laughing and even though the mistakes were obvious to most of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, we know we sometimes think we can get away with one or two of them just this once.

“A good approach is to allow one dream per novel. Then, in the final revision, go back and get rid of that, too.”

“There is no substitute for saying something, and the reader should be able to discover what it is you are saying without having to call and ask you in person.”

“The manuscripts of unpublished authors are often rife with passages in which the protagonist takes stock of his life.”

“It is best to assume that you are fooling nobody, because you are fooling nobody.”

Profile Image for Lau .
650 reviews127 followers
October 4, 2019
Cómo NO escribir una novela está escrito por dos editores literarios que según parece lo han visto todo. Es una lista extensa y llena de ejemplos muy divertidos sobre todo lo que no hay que hacer si se busca ser publicado por una editoria: esas cosas que los editores detectan en los manuscritos pero no tienen tiempo de decirle a cada uno de los autores que rechazan.

Aunque tu trabajo como escritor es conocer muy bien a tus personajes, pocas veces es necesario compartir toda esa información con el lector, y cuando decimos «pocas veces» queremos decir «nunca».

No es necesario querer escribir una novela para disfrutar este libro, la verdad es que cualquiera que se haya cruzado con una novela mala va a encontrar algo con lo que reirse. Y aunque nunca hayan leído un libro malo, también van a reirse.
Desde los nombres que le ponen a cada problema hasta los textos simulados (y muy exagerados) para volver el tema bien claro, este libro está lleno de humor e ironía y es una lectura divertida y amena que alienta a los escritores a hacer las cosas bien.

Pero no es sólo humor, realmente cubren todos los aspectos de un libro en profundidad y es una muy buena guía para quien quiera embarcarse en la difícil tarea de escribir una buena novela. Desde los aspectos generales del argumento (y cómo hacer un buen final) hasta el modo de presentar el trabajo terminado a un editor, creo que no quedó ningún aspecto por cubrir.

«Y ahora que te tengo en mi poder te voy a contar la historia de mi vida.»
(...) Al crear a un malo los escritores muchas veces llegan al extremo de que ese malvado muestre un grado de crueldad que la raza humana todavía no ha alcanzado.

Muchas de las cosas que dicen pueden resultar obvias, pero es de ese tipo de obviedades que uno no piensa de forma consciente hasta que alguien las menciona. Es muy claro, conciso y gráfico, y abarca muchos más temas de los que pensé que podrían ir mal con un libro... aunque sinceramente mientras lo leía me acordé de varias novelas que padecí y eso volvió a este libro aún más divertido.
«Los clichés se han convertido en clichés por una buena razón».

Los autores que intentan escribir desde el punto de vista de un personaje que es más inteligente que ellos deberían plantearse si eso es una buena idea antes de ponerse manos a la obra. 

Quizás hay errores que sean válidos para un escritor novato, pero algunas de las cosas que ellos marcan como incorrecto (y que tienen razón) las he visto hechas muy bien por autores excelentes... así que creo que al final, todo depende de la calidad de la escritura.
Lo más importante de todo es tener verdadera autocrítica... y leer, leer mucho y nunca cansarse de corregir.

Reseña de Libros junto al mar
Profile Image for Richard.
Author 4 books432 followers
July 4, 2022
I have never read a writing manual that was so laugh-out-loud funny. The authors give many campy and hilarious excerpts of bad writing in supposedly unpublished manuscripts, all by way of showing the apprentice novelist what to avoid. And on the whole the writing advice is really sound.

"And there you have my review, folks!!!" chortled the elated reviewer ecstatically.
Profile Image for StarMan.
636 reviews17 followers
July 31, 2020
REVIEW: Examples of bad writing to avoid. Touches on problems with POV, tense, flowery language, adverbs, inappropriate use of exclamation marks*, dialogue, sex scenes, and more. Also some funny stuff on how to NOT get published. 3 stars or a skosh more.

BONUS: Two laugh out louds--one was when the author gave their own translation of deus ex machina.


How Not to Write, by Someone Who Doesn’t by Delilah Des Anges
Profile Image for Cheryl.
9,331 reviews399 followers
Shelved as 'xx-dnf-skim-reference'
April 27, 2023
Skimmed fairly closely, April 2023. If I were to 1. write a novel and 2. want to get it published, I would definitely refer to this book. It's fun and easy to read, though maybe sometimes a little too silly. And sometimes it talks about certain features of unpublishable novels that are features I would actually like to see. I looked at it to see what kinds of things are readable but not publishable....

So, if you are a writer, go through the guidelines here to make sure you're not making any actual gaffes. But if you're confident that you're handling well something that the authors disapprove of, find some beta readers to verify your self-evaluation, and if they agree, leave it in. Some of us readers want some more originality.
Profile Image for Arcesio.
Author 2 books78 followers
July 10, 2020
Muy didáctico y recomendable para los nuevos escritores. Plantea valiosos consejos y recomendaciones para moldear un buen ejercicio narrativo.

Elementos prácticos:
Construcción de personajes
Voces narrativas
Tramas y giros
Diálogos, entre otros.

Calificación: 4,2
Profile Image for Rick.
185 reviews624 followers
January 1, 2015
In the pursuit of brevity, I’ve written this review in bullet points. It’s an attempt at a slightly less garrulous tirade.

- If you’re one to fall into any of the 200 traps listed here, you probably don’t have the chops to produce something of significance. Sorry, that’s just my take. The majority of these tips should be common sense for anyone with even a bit of talent.
- How Not to Write a Novel assumes your goal is to write a BAD novel, and it tells you how to do it. While it’s a funny premise, the book eventually hits a point of diminishing returns after negative example after negative example after negative example…
- The book seems to be aimed at genre writers, i.e. writers with no real literary aspirations. The authors deem good writing as a “page turning”, yet most literature can’t be categorized as such. These rules are for writers looking to create momentary diversions, rather than intellectual thought-provokers (which isn’t bad, per se).
- If nothing else, the book is funny; however, I wouldn’t buy the book solely for its comedy.
- The advice in this book will elevate your novel to mediocrity, at best. Greatness, in my opinion, is something you’re born with. Brilliance can’t be taught. You have it or you don’t.
- There’s not a lot of depth here. Each of the 200 sections amounts to about a page, so each piece of advice is inherently glossed over.
- It must be said that avoiding these pitfalls doesn’t necessarily make your novel a good one. As a result, this book feels like the first half of a duology. How to Actually Write a Novel would be a fitting sequel.
- At the end of the day, the book seems to be putting down what it should be lifting up: a writer’s desire to execute his own vision in his own way as effectively as possible.
- The book is, perhaps, too satirical to be helpful. The examples used are often so extreme that it’s obvious how bad they are. A little more nuance, a little more specificity, would have helped a great deal. How Not to Write a Novel almost insults the reader’s intelligence at a certain point.
- What this book needed to do was show writing that was mildly offensive, and how much it could have been improved with just a few tweaks.
- I would recommend this to very young writers just starting to hone their craft. If you’ve written for any time at all, skip it.
Profile Image for Darcy Conroy.
Author 2 books33 followers
June 3, 2010
We all know that the best way to teach is to engage and entertain with the material – this book does it in spades; I couldn’t put it down!

Rather than write another how-to book, Mittelmark and Newman have produced a book in a format which will be familiar to TV Tropes readers, naming, describing and creating their own hand-crafted, hysterical examples of many of the mistakes that unpublished authors make in spec manuscripts (though I have certainly seen many of these in published books, too!)

Ask yourself, are you guilty of:

“The Overture: Wherein the prologue is a brief guide to the meaning of life”

“The Puffer Fish: Wherein the author flaunts his vocabulary”

“The Joan Rivers Pre-Novel Special: In which clothing is given too much prominence?”

“The Vacation Slideshow: In which the author substitutes location for story?”

“Gibberish for Art’s Sake: Wherein indecipherable lyricism baffles the reader”

““But, Captain…!”: Where characters tell each other things they both already know”

“Hamlet at the Deli: Wherein the character’s thoughts are transcribed to no purpose”

“Goodbye cruel reader! In which an inconvenient character is conveniently disposed of?”

“The Underpants Gnomes Where crucial steps are omitted?”

and does your novel end with

“Now with 20% More Homily! Where the author tells us what he’s just spent 300 pages telling us”

If you find yourself haunted by some of the examples (and if you are even slightly honest with yourself, you will) and if you find yourself trying to justify your particular use of them, then they are probably the things you most need to fix!

Laugh out loud, shriek out loud, funny, this book will teach you more than many similar books which take you a
Profile Image for Toni Rodriguez.
77 reviews10 followers
February 7, 2019

Considero todo un pecado haber comenzado mi reto literario la semana pasada, pero después de un re-acomodo en mi colección y mis listas de lectura me concentraré al máximo en escritura creativa y consejos para mi estilo.

He leído a lo largo de los años a varios autores que me llenaron sobre consejos acerca de como estructurar correctamente una historia (John Truby y Stephen King fueron de una enorme ayuda).
Pero como Evan Hansen dice en mi canción favorita del musical: "Nadie te dice en que estás mal".

Todos los ejemplos, situaciones y consejos de este libro han sido de una ayuda increíble. Me hizo replantearme todo lo que he leído hasta este momento.

Exageradamente recomendable para cualquier persona interesada en el arte de la escritura o fanáticos de las historias.
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