01/07/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Penguin. 262 page indexed small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 9.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-141-03854-4.
check out website: www.penguin.com
I should point out that the sub-title for 'How Not To Write A Novel' is '200 Mistakes To Avoid At All Costs If You Ever Want To Get Published'. What authors Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark actually do is not to get preachy but to give various samples, I didn't actually count up it they made two hundred but there's a hell of a lot here, demonstrating poor writing and what to do so you don't get published.
As an editor who preaches good writing, it became more me recognising what I've seen countless times before. It's whether those writers who already write poorly will see themselves in such context is the real problem and a little chortle for the rest of us. It also reminds me of 'Fawlty Towers' and the 'not to mention the Germans' and it becomes impossible not to say anything else. Neo-writers could end up repeating the mistakes without realising it. Tricky ground, huh? Hopefully, if you're honest with yourself and recognise any of these problems as something you do on a regular basis then you'll take the initiative and learn to stop doing them.
Saying that, the skit examples are, for the most part, funny. Mostly cos you wouldn't see such things in print. Well, probably in vanity press where there's no editor looking over your shoulder pointing out the mistakes. In fact, if you belong to that section of publishing, then this book is absolutely important to own and digest.
The chapters cover everything from plotting, beginning, middle and end, to settings and characters as well as perspective and research. I wouldn't recommend reading too much at a time or at least be prepared to re-read mostly to let it all sink in properly. If you can get through the book and it's all sunk in then, hopefully, your next masterpiece might show some improvement or if it doesn't, then there are areas you will know what to focus on to resolve.
About the only thing they don't really go into depth on is punctuation and its mis-use, although I suspect they think showing explanations of sentence and paragraph pace actually covers that. Personally, I wouldn't have take any chances with this as through all the samples I've been through, it's the biggest bugbear. Then again, as I can't attribute blame here to which of the two authors, one of them can't tell the difference between 'neither' and 'either' - then a lot of pros can't these days neither. The same can also be said about word processors not recognised hyphenated words and accepting them without. I would classify that as a lot of sloppiness entering the professional release and the, shall we say amateur neo-writers in their wake think that's the right thing to do. I won't go into semi-colons again - the bane of all pace.
Although it doesn't go specifically into our genre, there is a reference that Science Fiction needs to work from raw cloth than using current reality which basically means we use a lot more imagination. Granted that's probably the case for stories set in the future or other-worlds or combination of same, some aspects will be the same whatever the environment. Alternative realities where history changes a little certainly needs as much research as an historical novel. There's many SF stories set in our reality as well so there has to be an awareness of that as great as any general genre writer.
Whatever the case, this book will help you and I unreservedly urge any of you with writing aspirations or can't get off first base and get a 'sale' even in the amateur field to think this is money well-spent in getting a copy and reading this book.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA