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How Not to Write a Novel [Kindle Edition]

Howard Mittelmark , Sandra Newman
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)

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Book Description

"What do you think of my fiction book writing?" the aspiring novelist extorted.

"Darn," the editor hectored, in turn. "I can not publish your novel! It is full of what we in the business call 'really awful writing.'"

"But how shall I absolve this dilemma? I have already read every tome available on how to write well and get published!" The writer tossed his head about, wildly.

"It might help," opined the blonde editor, helpfully, "to ponder how NOT to write a novel, so you might avoid the very thing!"

Many writing books offer sound advice on how to write well. This is not one of those books. On the contrary, this is a collection of terrible, awkward, and laughably unreadable excerpts that will teach you what to avoid—at all costs—if you ever want your novel published.

In How Not to Write a Novel, authors Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman distill their 30 years combined experience in teaching, editing, writing, and reviewing fiction to bring you real advice from the other side of the query letter. Rather than telling you how or what to write, they identify the 200 most common mistakes unconsciously made by writers and teach you to recognize, avoid, and amend them. With hilarious "mis-examples" to demonstrate each manuscript-mangling error, they'll help you troubleshoot your beginnings and endings, bad guys, love interests, style, jokes, perspective, voice, and more. As funny as it is useful, this essential how-NOT-to guide will help you get your manuscript out of the slush pile and into the bookstore.

Product Description


This writing how-to should carry a warning: it's the kind of book one reads at the expense of all other responsibilities. (Library Journal)

A great resource and a fun read with a lot of solid advice for would-be novelists. (Publishers Weekly)


'[a] hilarious, wickedly observed and deeply useful guide'

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 321 KB
  • Print Length: 274 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0061357952
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (17 Mar. 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00166YCBU
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #65,402 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gem 5 May 2009
By Claretta VINE VOICE
Anyone who has attempted a novel would benefit from reading this and would pick up many useful tips. It has much broader appeal, though - anyone who is interested in fiction will enjoy this as it points out so many of the mistakes that slip through the net and that you find in many published novels. The examples of 'how not to do it' are frequently silly but also hilariously funny, and the joke is brilliantly sustained right through to the end. Don't read it in public, because you will find yourself laughing out loud far too often. A minor comic masterpiece.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How NOT to do it 31 May 2010
Well into the second draft of my second novel, I rather dreaded picking this book up. But I enjoyed it: it is funny, and hammers its points home with excruciating detail of misused descriptions, absurd characterisation, arcane words and appalling clichés. It made me consider whether all my characters were necessary, whether I was using the right words for the right things, and also feel faintly guilty about some of my metaphors. Good stuff, but maybe not for unpublished novelists at all, as self consciousness is the last thing they need to get the words flowing. If you are writing like any of the examples or even most of them, then maybe writing isn't for you. But frankly there are published novels that contain many of these faults as well - particularly the use of obscure words and clichéd characters. The best piece of advice in this or any other book is to read widely and eclectically (probably a banned word); immersing your mind in great prose so that you absorb the good organically. And that includes learning to spell. And never forget the man who thought 'hirsute' meant 'nevertheless'.
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67 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny and helpful 5 Mar. 2009
This isn't a writing course -- it won't help you generate characters, overcome writer's block or find the inspiration to unleash the artist within. But it does contain some very good pointers towards the kinds of fault that will send your manuscript into the waste basket, and it's written by people who know.

I found it intermittently very funny, and usually helpful; some of the recommendations will be familiar to anyone who's read anything similar before, but it's mostly fresh and zippy enough. You'll get through it in a single sitting, but it would make a useful pre-flight checklist for any fiction manuscript.

Certain Amazon reviewers seem to have found this book personally offensive, and the examples of mistakes insulting to unpublished writers. On the other hand, one of those reviewers doesn't know that a 'straw man' is a deliberate misrepresentation of an opponent's position, designed to be easily refuted, and not a deliberate exaggeration designed to make a salient point clearer, which is what the parodic examples in this book are. I'd say they're made so comically awful partly in order to *avoid* offending or discouraging unpublished writers.

The implicit 201st piece of advice here is probably: if you're dreadful enough to find the examples insulting, and you can't see how bad you are even after it's pointed out to you, give up.
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55 of 60 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars very entertaining but not particularly helpful 23 Nov. 2009
I found this book extremely entertaining, and it would pass a couple of amusing hours for anyone, wannabe writer or not. I laughed out loud at points, and it certainly does stand out from all the other writing help guides out there.

However, the most notable way it stands out is by not being particularly helpful. There are some useful pointers in here; however, it mainly gives the impression of being an opportunity for the authors to vent some anger towards hopeless writers. The style is condescending, smug and mocking. The fact is, however, that the hopeless writers at whom this book is clearly aimed would have no use for it: they will never be successful, no matter what. Those writers who stand a fighting chance - who have basic ability but need some help - are the ones that benefit from writing guides and this book is not for them. The examples are so clearly ludicrous, and many of the pointers so blatantly obvious, that if you don't already know them you should stay away from fiction at all costs. Therefore the authors have defeated their own objective. They manage to poke fun at, and alienate, the very audience they're trying to sell to.

I think there is a lot of value to this book. However, it should be rebranded in the 'humour' section, as it is definitely an entertaining read rather than a helpful guide to novel writing.
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77 of 85 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Funny, sarcastic and useful 19 Oct. 2008
This brief little guide to how not to write is two things in one. Firstly, it is a self help book intending to help budding novelists avoid mistakes that get most novels rejected by publishers. Secondly however, this is also a funny book in its own right and could be read and found to be entertaining even if you didn't want to write a novel.

I bought this book as a writing guide and in this respect found it quite useful. In the first few pages I managed to spot some of the areas where I had been going wrong in my own writing. The book as a whole contains a mixture of tips, some that you may think are obvious and others not, but all of them are insightful in some way.

The book is very, very sarcastic which certainly appeals to my sense of humour. At a few places I did laugh out loud and one particular part did cause a few minutes of chuckling. There is also a distinct dislike for the author Ayn Rand running through these pages which I can but applaud loudly.

If there is a downside to the book it is that now I am reading fiction through the lens of Mittlemark and Newman. I've started seeing some really obvious mistakes in the work of famous and respected authors, and I have to try not to make this prevent me from enjoying their work. Oh well, I suppose if published authors aren't perfect then there is hope for us all.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 'how not to' book
A witty and illuminating book about novel writing - the conceit of writing from the perspective of teaching how NOT to write a novel, allows the examples to be funny and... Read more
Published 2 days ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiational and funny
While most 'how to write a novel' books read like an English lesson minutely disecting Romeo and Juliet (you remember: the teacher droning on about Malvoleo's motivation while you... Read more
Published 19 days ago by Jim Clennett
5.0 out of 5 stars Humourous guide
I'm not a writer, nor do i aspire to be. But I appreciated the novel (sic) way that the topic was covered. Read more
Published 25 days ago by Broham Jander Honn
4.0 out of 5 stars Tells you what your writing group or class never will
On reading this book I realised I was guilty of some of these errors: did I really need to write 'asked' instead of 'said'? Really, a dream? Read more
Published 1 month ago by Gudrun
2.0 out of 5 stars A very modest book
It's an entertaining read, but if you don't know this stuff already you have no business thinking you can write.
Published 1 month ago by ukreader
5.0 out of 5 stars Quite fine.
Quite fine.
Published 2 months ago by Coolismo
5.0 out of 5 stars Brill
good concise and funny :)
Published 2 months ago by Philippa Cartwright
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining read whether you are a writer or not
A very entertaining read whether you are planning to write the next blockbuster or not.

A checklist of all the mistakes not to make when writing a novel, presented in an... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Jason Hanrahan
5.0 out of 5 stars Recommended
Oh yes, the antidote to all the how-to books out there and at least as informative. enjoyable to read, but no less useful for that.
Published 4 months ago by Mrs Moppit
1.0 out of 5 stars Save your money. Wish I did.
This is an extremely disappointing book for it is absolutely useless as a how-to guide.
I have read the literal sum of thousands of published books in my lifetime; and I have... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Julia
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