Too much ink has been spilled on how to write the great American novel. Let me show you how to write a crap one.
Here are twelve ways:
1. Descriptive passages (long). This is key. At least thirty percent of your novel should be pondering, descriptive prose. Details. Lovingly described. And remember—don’t tie your details to a telling character trait, like the evil prince’s amulet. Describe the trees outside the prince’s house for a paragraph (two is better) before he utters a word of dialog. Set the scene. Warm up those engines. Describe the engines. You are an artist. Weave that wandering tale. Forget what Elmore Leonard said about leaving out the parts people skip over. What did he know? Long descriptive passages.
2. Open your novel with a character waking up. The best way to do this is to have your character wake up, describe everything he or she sees, then do a lot of reflecting, and then have another short descriptive passage. Especially if you’re writing a thriller. This way your readers can really get to know your character before anything happens. Then:
3. Backstory! Lots of backstory. Flashbacks. Flashbacks within flashbacks if you’re a pro. Do not trust your readers to pick things up on the fly. Is your novel about some man in the throes of alcoholism? Then, as a reader, I probably need to know where his parents went to school. And what they like to eat. Same if your protagonist is the first female astronaut about to take off on her maiden flight.
4. Cross Genres. One thing that keeps readers on their toes is when they’re never quite sure what kind of book they’re reading. Confining your novel to one genre won’t accomplish that. The crappiest novels have elements of mystery/paranormal/sci fi/literary/young adult/romance and vampires all thrown in. And erotica. And memoir, even if your memoir would put your mother to sleep. And more vampires.
5. Growth. Don’t do it. Who wants to read about characters who change through adversity all the time? Or reach some epiphany by the end of the novel? Hasn’t that been done before? And please, don’t have minor character growth either, where characters display subtle levels of change from the beginning to the end of each scene.
6. Conflict. Another no-no. Ties in with Growth. Who wants a character in terrible trouble, on the brink of failure, only to have them in constant conflict with other characters too? It only creates tension. Lots of eating scenes where characters ruminate on mildly amusing anecdotes (backstory), with *description* are best. If you somehow do manage to accidentally slip some growth or conflict into your novel, under no circumstances have it escalate into a series of events where your protagonist must meet ever-increasing challenges to achieve their goal.
7. Don’t workshop your novel. Those amateurs who think they know how to write? Think they know what your novel needs? Just because it’s got description and backstory they don’t get, they have the audacity to suggest you might consider trimming it. Perhaps they don’t feel engaged by your 800 page memoir with vampires. Why are you showing them your work in the first place? Do you want your ideas stolen? I’m going to say it again because you need to tell readers the same thing multiple times: don’t workshop.
8. Use lots of colorful dialog tags. Forget the ‘he said/she said’ rule. Much better to treat the reader to ‘he interjected angrily’ or ‘she shouted demonstratively’.
9. Tell, don’t show. Why use a bunch of words to build up a scene, appealing to at least two senses at all times, where the character’s emotional state is revealed through action and situation? Much easier to simply say ‘Fred went to primary school when he was six’. Especially if Fred is the captain of a ship that is sinking.
10. Be cryptic. It’s not your job to hold the reader’s hand. They need to work for it. Art is never easy. You may not even be trying to tell the reader anything in the first place. The point is, it’s their responsibility to unearth the gem(s) in your description-laden prose. Great authors may not even ever know what their own novel is about. That’s just the way art works.
11. Vague protagonist. You know what your protagonist is thinking; if your readers are paying attention, so should they. No need to spell it out and spoil the magic.
12. Length. Since you are a great writer, the more the better. Lots of words. Lots! Who wants John Lennon for three minutes when you can have Yoko Ono screeching for an entire album side? See how long this piece is? I could have edited it down and made it shorter. But why? I’m an artist.
¡vivan los autores!