The Naughtiest Writing Book Ever Written
How Not to Write a Novel – 200 Classic Mistakes and
How to Avoid them – A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide
Howard Middlemark and Sandra Newman
Reviewed By K. Jakabs
Copyright © 2009 by K. Jakabs, All Rights Reserved
When I say naughtiest, I
also mean not as in How Not to Write a Novel –
200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid them – A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide
by Howard Middlemark and Sandra Newman. Hard packed with knowledge, wit,
and a good bit of naughtiness, this how not to write book is
not for the egotistical or the easily offended, but if you're sure
you want to be a writer, and you're tough enough to handle a bit of
tough love, then this writing manual is a must read and then a must
The authors, Middlemark and
Newman, admit to writing this book by dredging the bottom of the slush
piles to create their own atrocious examples of 200 writing mistakes.
Some of these mistakes are well known, but many more are screw-ups that
seem to be only previously known by editors who are always "…too busy
rejecting your novel to tell you themselves…"
With each example,
Middlemark and Newman sarcastically explain where the writer went wrong
and how to duplicate the mistake so our writing can also dwell in the
depths of obscurity. Or we can take this book for the challenge that it
is and not make the same mistakes in our manuscripts. Middlemark
and Newman make it easy to catch and fix just about any writing problem.
This slant, although
refreshing and enjoyably informative, managed to do something I didn't
think was possible. It inspired me to want to edit. I looked forward to
acting like a jaded editor wielding my mighty red pen to excise the
drivel from my writing.
Since first reading this
book, I've kept it close by. When I hit a plot problem and I'm stuck
with no idea as to why, I just flip to part one. There I can glance
through the brief examples of plot killers until I find the mistake that
matches the one in my current project. It is astounding how many
creative ways there are to ruin a plot, beyond the bad setup and the
ending that can cause a reader to daydream about killing the author that
Or maybe I'm just not loving
my main character, or I'm not sure if he needs a little buddy, or my
villain isn't giving me nightmares. A quick jump to part two of the
Not book and I'm neck deep in aspects and characteristics that can
hold a character flat on the page, and since Middlemark and Newman were
so nice as to show me how they were able to mangle their characters, I'm
able to see how to heal mine.
Before sitting down to the
pre-submission edit, I like to read over parts three and four. Three is
all about the basics of style. It's amazing how even a perfectly proper
sentence can make a story unpleasent, but Middlemark and Newman show us
how and why this is so. After that, we're treated to comically bad
examples of paragraphs and dialogue that do more than just make us
groan. They train our brain not to make the same mistakes without
groaning at our own writing.
Part four is about
perspective and voice, narrative stance, and interior monologue. Just
rereading these two sections brings that editor's viewpoint back to me
and a maniacal glee when using my red pen.
On the other hand, before I
start a new project, I like to reread part five which explores the world
of the bad novel from the setting to the background and then to the
heart of any story, the theme.
Part six, entitled "Special
Effects and Novelty Acts-Do Not Try This at Home", should really be
called, "if you aren't comfortable talking about your sex life to your
friends or telling them jokes, don't write them."
The seventh and final
section of How Not to Write a Novel is called, "How Not to Sell a
Novel." Herein we learn to take that red pen to our query letters, our
format, and our egos.
Despite all the shining good
aspects of this book, I must give one warning. As I stated earlier, I
sat down and read this book all in one sitting. Don't do this. This
book's style, although funny, entertaining, and enlightening, is also
negative. Too much negativity without a break has been known to cause
depression. I should have realized this before reaching section seven
when I started to feel despondent. How could I ever catch all those
mistakes in my writing? I pressed on and then went to bed feeling as if
I'd never make it as a writer. There were just too many mistakes I could
make. Thankfully, the next morning I awoke adjusted and determined to
use what I'd learned. I felt elated that I found it easy to remember the
naughty and nasty examples of writing mistakes. Even if I couldn't
remember the fix, it proved easy to flip through to the right section
and then the example I wanted. If I'd bought the hardcopy book instead
of the ereader format, then I could use the extensive index. Thus, I
recommend going old school when buying this book.
Out of all the "How to"
writing books, this How Not to Write a Novel is my favorite
writing manual and I highly recommend it to others, just don't read it
all in one day.
How Not To Write a
Novel by Howard Middlemark and Sandra Newman
Paperback: 272 pages
(April 1, 2008)