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How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them--A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide 3.2.2008 edition Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 125 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0061357954
ISBN-10: 0061357952
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Editorial Reviews

Review

“The teaching of creative writing just entered a whole new era with the publication of How Not to Write a Novel. Heavens, what a joy this book is….” (Lynne Truss)

Authors and editors Mittlemark and Newman identify writing pitfalls in each aspect of novel writing…. A great resource, this tongue-in-cheek guide is a fun read with a lot of solid advice for would-be novelists. (Publishers Weekly)

This writing how-to should carry a warning: it’s the kind of book one reads at the expense of other responsibilities….a surprisingly distinctive approach within the crowded category of novel-writing guides. (Library Journal)

“[A] hilarious, wickedly observed and deeply useful guide.” (The Observer, review by Kate Saunders)

“Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark have produced an invaluable guide.” (The Independent)

About the Author

Writer and editor Howard Mittelmark's book reviews and essays have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Hollywood Reporter, Writer's Digest, and other publications. He is the author of the novel Age of Consent.



Sandra Newman is the author of The Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done, which was short-listed for the Guardian First Book Award. She is also the author of the novel Cake; the memoir, Changeling; How Not to Write a Novel, an irreverent how-to guide with Howard Mittelmark; and The Western Lit Survival Kit. She lives in New York.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; 3.2.2008 edition edition (April 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061357952
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061357954
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (125 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #92,450 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Pros: Offers advice in a non-absolutist, entertaining manner, clearly shows how misusing techniques can lead to disaster with humorous examples, has many, many tips.

Cons: Occasionally gets a bit too caught up in the humor and not enough on the advice.

This book offers a very large selection of things to avoid when writing your novel which is in many ways more helpful than all the books that tell you what to do. Most authors don't want to feel like they are writing to template and the writing process is different for each individual person, but it is also good to know what to avoid, what tends to make a novel unsuccessful. There is advice on many different aspects of writing a novel from plotting to writing to characters.

This book is also short on absolutes (though there are some). Many writing books declare dramatically that you should "never" do a certain thing and all the while I am naming half a dozen best selling and/or critically acclaimed novels that do just that. This book tends to acknowledge that some of its rules can be broken to good effect -- you just have to be careful how you do it.

The best feature, though, is the humor. The made up "examples" that the authors provide are hilarious and often give you a much more vivid picture of what is meant by the tip than the explanation alone. For a few of the tips, I think that the authors got a little too caught up in making the examples funny so that I would forget what I they were supposed to demonstrate, but this was rare.

A very non-pretentious, helpful read. So entertaining that I read through it in a day which I cannot say of any other writing books I've read. 5 stars.
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Format: Paperback
If you are (like me) an unpublished novelist and avid reader, you may have two reactions to this book. One, you may blush at some of the mistakes you have made (and included in a submitted manuscript). Two, you may see at least a few of the errors listed occur in novels you've read, and you'll indignantly wonder why those authors get a pass and you don't. The answer is, that somehow they've found an audience, and you haven't, so you'd do well to pay attention to the "missteps." Although, the book's authors are careful to point out that there are exceptions to each rule.

Some of the advice is rather crude, as someone here as already pointed out, clearly the book is intended for an adult audience, not a young writer, unless they have a colorful vocabulary already. In addition to the 200 mistakes, the author's helpfully describe how not to write a query letter and where not to send your novel, at least if you want to avoid paying someone a large sum of money to publish your book.
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Format: Paperback
This book is very smartly written and also hysterical (I can hardly get these words out because I am so self-conscious of my sentences after reading it).

Few How To books are in themselves an enjoyable read, but this one is more entertaining than most humor fiction or non-fiction.

The authors know what they're talking about and, more importantly, SHOW they know what they're talking about by illustrating both how you shouldn't write and how you should.

Their website is a riot too.
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Format: Paperback
I don't laugh very often when I'm reading. I'll smile at an amusing passage but I usually don't laugh outright. It takes special talent to do that to me, and this book hit the mark. I will say up front that I'm inclined to enjoy humor about bad writing or badly constructed sentences. I even enjoyed the examples of this in grammar handbooks. The fact that the book is very funny and also extremely helpful at the same time helps a lot.

Even if you're not writing a novel, I think readers in general will find a lot to enjoy in the book. If I had one minor complaint it is that some of the examples are a bit too silly for their own good. Having a ton of mistakes in one paragraph is fine, but when it's coupled with a lot of silly names and silly situations I think the humor is actually lessened. That being said, this is only really noticeable in a couple examples and it doesn't really weaken what the writers are trying to illustrate.
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Format: Paperback
O.K., we could all benefit from this book, and there are many great tips here. But 2/3 the way through, I realized that the authors are making some of the mistakes they warn against. When they draft a passage to describe, for example, how tedious it is to read about what every character has ordered at dinner, they invade the prose with so many ridiculous names, nonsequitors, etc., that I was asking myself -- what mistake were they trying to point out again?

And unfortunately, every time they pointed out a problem, an author, either one I like very much, or don't like at all, comes to mind. Interior monologue? Lack of scenes and too much In the Narrator's Head? Ever heard of a guy called Henry James? Kingsley Amis? Martin Amis? Too much food, ever heard of the mega million seller Maeve Binchey? The authors praise James Bond in the same breath that they warn against super-heroics.

I think the first two chapters here, dealing with set-up, offer the most useful advice. After that, their prose, over-loaded with jokes, gets wearisome and seems mean-spirited. The style of the book was so unpleasant, it took me two months' to get through -- hardly a page-turner. It would have served them better to intersperce, between their Bad Writing Parodies, examples of a Good, Published Writer carrying off with aplomb whatever technique they've highlighted in the parody. It takes no great skill to slam bad writing. As both are well published writers, I'm wondering why they didn't use examples of their own work?

This is geared towards genre writers, almost any literary novel out there breaks a good half of these rules, so if you're even vaguely literary, you're going to have to filter out a lot of this advice.
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