Review of How Not to Write a Novel

How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them--A Misstep-by-Misstep GuideHow Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them--A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide by Howard Mittelmark
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thousands upon thousands of ambitious writers want to know how to get published. What is the magical key that will unlock the publisher’s door? We read endless books and blog posts on the subject. Join critique groups and subscribe to writer’s magazines. Helping the writer write is a literary genre unto itself.

So in the midst of all this helpful advice, Mittelmark and Newman suggest 200 ways to guarantee a writer’s manuscript will stay unpublished, a sort of backwards way to say the same things that have already been said. This entry into the swirling cauldron of information endeavors to both entertain and inform. At times, the book works as clever and witty entertainment. Occasionally, there are moments of crude or slapstick humor. But does this book work as a guide to writing? Not so much.

Each point is made with an example followed by an explanation. Indeed, each of the cases presented are prime examples of what not to do. Where the premise breaks down is in the following explanations. Even though the examples are sometimes humorous, the explanations are often vague or even sarcastic. There are few follow up examples of how the passage could have been written better.

An entire section is devoted to sex scenes. This section could have been written about any action sequence, not just sex scenes. The focus on sex seems more like a crass attempt to titillate the reader rather than an actual attempt to explain what not to do when writing action sequences. (And yes, sex scenes are action scenes.) As in fiction, a scene is included if it progresses the plot, not solely for the sake of writing the scene. This concentration on one aspect of writing action sequences might even been considered how not to write a how to book.

Will the reader learn something new from this book? Maybe if he or she reads between the lines and interprets everything in reverse. Will the reader be entertained? Sometimes. Depends on the reader’s definition of funny.

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  1. I think this just became my favorite review! Thanks :)

  2. I can't even imagine anyone buying this book in the first place. Money is so tight wouldn't it be best served buying books on how TO do something than rather NOT TO do something?


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