Mar. 1st, 2011

kitsjay: (Screw Canon)
But I heartily recommend a book in it, so hopefully you will deem it acceptable for reading anyway.

The book in question is How Not to Write a Novel by Mittelmark and Newman, which is just what it says on the tin. For those of you aware of my (ir)regular rants on fanfic authors and common mistakes, some of the problems discussed will be familiar. The Overly Psychotic Villain, for instance, who cackles evilly while killing puppies, because authors assume that this is what Evil People do; the sentences so overburdened with obscure vocabulary that the story effect becomes the same as opening a dictionary to random pages; the "Angel Effect", or as they refer to it, the "Too Good to Be True", wherein the main character (who in fanfiction has hitherto shown none of these characteristics) becomes a humanitarian who rescues kittens from the streets while selflessly dedicating their wages to pay for their ailing mother's medications; its close relative, the Unexpected Expert, wherein a hairdresser is surprisingly an expert in spelunking, string theory, and a sudoku master.

The authors of the book, who also worked as editors, happily and wittily point out the mistakes which immediately send aspiring author's manuscripts into the trash bin. What sets this apart from the myriad other books promising to tell budding novelists how to write is that this one is how not to write, which is infinitely more useful. Look at your bookshelves. Can you claim that every book on there follows the same formula? That they all use the same plot elements and characters? Unless you have, at best, two books on your shelves, then I doubt very much that you can. However, you can look and see what they don't do (or more accurately, you cannot, which is where this book comes in handy). Mittelmark and Newman provide a rough description of the problems and extremely amusing short examples demonstrating said problem, as well as a brief explanation of why it's a problem, if it's not already obvious.

As a personal note, I consider myself a fairly competent author; not great, assuredly, but not awful either. Even then, I loved this book. It detailed some mistakes that I have made in the past, some I have made recently, and some I will probably make in the future, even as near as I am to perfect*. Additionally, despite its name, the book does provide some useful advice on how to write, from the highly specific, "Any scene in which a character is shown waking up in bed or getting into bed is deeply suspect, unless there is someone new in bed with her", to the generalities of character development I mentioned earlier.

It's fun to read, not only as a how-not-to manual, but also a look at some of those remarkable generalities which you think are unique. Named a cat after a Greek character? It's mentioned. The main character listens to your favorite bands/reads your favorite authors? It's mentioned.

It tackles the broad problems with plot, characters, and assorted other "big picture" issues, as well as things as seemingly inconsequential as word choice and sentence structure.

Even if you're not planning on submitting the Great Novel anytime soon, most of us enjoy and dabble in fanfiction. Some fanfic authors think that because they're only doing it "for fun", this entitles them to not pay attention to these things, but I believe good authors are constantly seeking for criticism, and as we are past the age where a teacher swoops in with a red pen, we must rely on outside sources. This is one of those sources. As I said, it's fun to read, and you just might learn something.

A Brief Excerpt, for the Doubters )

How Not to Write a Novel by Mittelmark and Newman (Available on Kindle)

Also recommended: Robert's Rules of Writing by Robert Masello

* I am not actually perfect or anywhere close to it.

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