Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Review of 'How Not to Write a Novel' by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark

This book is seriously funny - meaning that it will help you write a better book, if you don't die laughing first.

How Not to Write a Novel has become my bedside Bible - not so much for its religious content, which, it has to be said, is minimal, but in the same way that Bridget Jones's Diary held that place for many years, and before that, Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole. Common factor - all are reliably and comfortingly funny, however many times you've already read them and especially if you wake up in the middle of the night.

Mittelmark is an editor of many years' standing and Newman is a well-respected author. Between them, they have put together some of the mistakes and gaffes that new (and maybe even older) writers make, both in their novels and in the process of submitting to them agents and publishers. But Newman and Mittelmark brilliantly turn the process on its head. As suggested by the title, this book, if you heed its advice, will make sure you never, ever get published.

Should you by any chance have come up with a good plot, Mittelmark and Newman are on hand to help you slow it down and mess it up. Just make sure, they advise, that nothing of any significance happens before Chapter 5. Stick your character in front of a mirror and let her describe herself as brown-haired, of medium height, with medium-sized breasts. Or, give your male protagonist eyes of cobalt blue. Before your hero's story begins, introduce us at length to every member of his extended family and all their cutely-named pets.

And if your hero gets stuck in an underwater cave, suddenly announce to your readers that it's OK - he trained as a pearl-diver in his youth. Begin your novel with philosophical musings on the nature of humanity and, just to make sure your reader gets the idea, reprise your thesis at the end.

And should you be brave enough to attempt a sex scene - well, the examples in this book will delight and inspire you to climactic heights.

And, er... never visit the same launderette twice. In your novel, that is, not in real life. (I fell foul of this myself.)

One word of caution - this book isn't really for completely novice writers. It could scare them off for life. But if you've been writing for a while, and especially if you've begun to engage in the submission game (no, not a form of bondage recommended for your prospective Mills and Boon...), then you'll understand what they're talking about and quite possibly end up having a good laugh at yourself. But you'll also learn a lot - I did - and next time you're tempted to write one of those unintelligible prologues, you'll just possibly give it a miss and cut to the chase.

My copy of How Not to Write a Novel is tattered, chocolate-spattered, wine-drenched and bubblebath-wrinkled. What greater recommendation can I make?

How Not to Write a Novel: 200 mistakes to avoid at all costs if you ever want to get published
Authors: Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark
Paperback: 272 pages
Penguin Books, 29th Jan 2009
ISBN-10: 0141038543
ISBN-13: 978-0141038544

Review by Rosalie Warren, 5/2/2012
Follow me on Twitter: @Ros_Warren
My website


Patsy said...

I've got this one and there were some bits that really did make me laugh out loud (that's rare for me) Haven't read it lately, so I think it's time to go back for another look.

Fiona Faith Maddock said...

Great review, thanks, Rosalie.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

I think my (grown-up) daughter has a copy so I must ask her to lend it to me!

Rosalie Warren said...

Thanks, folks. My OH (not a writer) is now reading it and chuckling merrily!

julia jones said...

very funny - thanks

Rosalie Warren said...

Thanks, Julia.