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Book Review:

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

 By 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 memorize.

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 is.

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

Publisher: Collins (April 1, 2008)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0061357952

ISBN-13: 978-0061357954