18 November 2008
Novel Writing 101
You want to write a best-selling novel? What's that you say, you're not a literary genius? Hey, who is these days -- am I right?
I've got a simple formula that's worked for many hack novelists over the years. I'm providing for you, absolutely free of charge my "Guide to the Modern American Novel." (Disclaimer: this style of novel writing may work for men only.)
Your book is not only guaranteed to sell big but might be developed into a film or HBO mini series. Upon successful publication of your novel you will immediately be offered a six figure bonus to write another. Best of all your subsequent books need not be nearly as good as the original. Write that first one and you can coast on your reputation.
Here you go:
Start with a main character, male middle aged. Give him a name like Fannigan. Whatever it is refer to him by his last name only. (You'll be writing in the third person, if you don't know what that means your especially qualified to write a book.)
Your opening sentence should set the tone for the book. Something like this: "Fannigan hated his new hat." Or, "Fannigan hated his daily commute to work."
Readers must be able to relate to Fannigan. Having him be world weary, morose and self deprecating are excellent ways to create a bond between your writing and the reader. After all, we're all world weary, morose and self deprecating.
Okay now you've got to give Fannigan a wife. You have two choices, a horrible shrew who nags the poor bugger incessantly, or a smart handsome woman who is infuriatingly right about everything and is endlessly tolerant of Fannigan.
You'll also be giving Fannigan a couple of children but don't waste too much time on them. If they're one dimensional cultural stereotypes that's fine, they're just background anyway.
Now give Fannigan a best friend. He's got to be a wit who makes wry observations. It's perhaps best if he's divorced or an alcoholic or maybe both. Readers must like him and he must like Fannigan. Meanwhile Fannigan will seem sometimes ambivalent about his best buddy, but in a resigned sort of way.
For scenery provide Fannigan with the following, a flirtatious but nonthreatening secretary; a gruff but lovable boss; an eccentric house always in need of work but big and comfy; and a loud mouthed, meddling neighbor.
Okay now you'll need flashbacks to Fannigan's childhood and lots of 'em. He has to have been a perfectly ordinary kid trying to make sense of quarreling but loving parents and troubled but talented siblings. Throw in lots of coming of age stuff filled with paper routes, athletic pratfalls, nervous first dates and a first sexual encounter story that readers will howl about for days. Don't be shy about including a lot of masturbating, a few bullies, a kooky but wise teacher and a flatulent pet. Also have one of the characters from his childhood return as an adult as a totally different person, like the school bully now being a gay violinist. Oh and that whole childhood stuff doesn't really need to relate or explain Fannigan or anyone else as an adult, you're really just pretending it does. And don't give Fannigan any exceptional talents, that's way too complicated for the modern American novel.
And remember you want a lots of cheap laughs, think of it as literary slapstick. But don't get too caught up on this whole business of literature, you're trying to sell books here. People who read this type of book want to feel smart without actually having to be smart. If you give them some chuckles they'll appreciate it.
I know what you're thinking, what about the hoity toity crowd, those intellectual New York Review of Books types. How am I going to appeal to them? That's simple. Your characters, Fannigan in particular, spend an inordinate amount of time in introspection, philosophizing and rumination. I know, I know, it's unrealistic, but your characters have to think and talk through everything. The corduroy jacket crowd will eat it up. It's the real secret to stretching a 250 page story into a 485 page best seller.
As for plot, denouement and all that other pretentious stuff, I wouldn't worry too much about it. Just have Fannigan make some life affirming decision toward the end of the book. You can always resolve some made up crisis or maybe kill someone off. Of course if you need to get rid of a character at any point car accidents are great so is cancer but with accidents you can get a two- fer.
I've saved one rule for last because I need to stress this. All characters should follow strict routines. That makes it easier for you and your readers. They do the same frickin' thing everyday at the same time. Trust me, readers will welcome this. You don't want to challenge people who pick up tour book. Life's hard enough, your novel needs to be simple. "every night at six Fannigan would walk the dog to the park and sneak a cigarette." Oh and for God's sake keep Fannigan in the same town he grew up, moving people is way too complicated. Up state New York is good.
Okay, now get cracking. This shouldn't take long. Once you've got the first draft done dial up an agent and you're good to go. Oh I almost forgot, you can save yourself some time if you picture the actor who's going to play Fannigan as you're writing. It's nice to get in good with the casting director.