Sunday 8 January 2012

How Not to Write a Novel

‘How Not to Write a Novel’ by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark
I was given this book for Christmas and read it very quickly, laughing long and loud at many of the things the authors wrote. Even if the reader has no intention of attempting to write a novel it is so wittily written that it is a joy to read. Few books have the power to make me laugh aloud at every page and want to read out bits. This book is one of the few.

I recognised some of the mistakes as being quite pertinent to my own ‘writing’. I know I have a bad habit of airing my (limited) knowledge but after reading this . . . ‘The glories of the Calvin cycle, and the further intricacies of the Krebs cycle . . . were little comfort now that her husband, Hugh, had bonked that secretary, in an act of sexual congress whose origins lay in a reproductive innovation evolved in algae 2-7 million years ago!’  I shall be more circumspect in future.

However, some research is necessary in order to avoid writing like this: ‘The architect admired the way the building was crafted; it was all stone with curvy arches like an old church.’

How many ways can you say ‘said’? Like so many would-be authors I have fallen into the trap of trying to replace ‘said’ with another verb. The following exchange will remain in my memory:

‘Funny?’ she interrogated.
‘Hilarious!’ he expostulated.
‘Surely not?’ she doubted.
‘But how little you know!’ he exclaimed.
‘Says you!’ she objected.
‘That’s the last I am willing to say,’ he concluded.
‘Some listener you turned out to be!’ he snorted.

I could go on and quote more but would be in danger of reproducing the entire book. That would be plagiarism, wouldn’t it? 


  1. Oh, I want that book.
    I must order it right away, before I forget. Otherwise, I'll be saying: "Someone wrote a blog post about a book she really enjoyed but I forget the name of the book and I forget who said she liked it."

  2. My mom would love this book and so would I. I have tried writing a few short stories and the word 'said' is a tricky one. But actually, as you read a book 'said' is the best word I guess.

  3. This sounds hilarious. I want to read it.

  4. This sounds like fun. I almost fell off my chair reading the different ways to replace the word "said".


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