I read this book, twice, wrote a novel and now I’m a successful published novelist. This is the single most useful book on how to write a novel ever written, ever, by anyone in the entire universe, and you dismiss it to your cost.
–Ben Aaronovitch, bestselling author of the Rivers of London series
GRRrrr, boys and girls! I’m Jean-Robert, the Genre Bear!
Right now, your body is going through lots of scary changes, so Howard and Sandy asked me to have a talk with you about literary genres.
As you grow taller and different parts of your body start to take on startling and unexpected dimensions, you’ll also find yourself thinking about what genre you would like to write in. You’ll hear things in the street about genres, and the best thing to remember is that all of it is true. But before you start making any big decisions, let me tell you some things that will help you as you learn to move your body in ways that will upset older people.
Today I’m going to talk about “romance.” More books are written about people falling in love than about anything else. In English, these books are called romance novels. But in most Romance languages, any kind of novel is called a romance, not just romance novels. Romance languages are called Romance languages because they come from the language that people used to speak in Rome, before Rome was invaded by the Goths. Although the languages that come from the language of Rome are called Romance languages, the language of Rome was called Latin, and some romance novels have characters called “Latin lovers,” who usually speak Spanish.
The Goths learned to write after invading the Roman Empire, but they did not write Gothic novels. Gothic novels were a type of novel written during the Romantic period, which followed the neoclassical period, which was influenced by the Roman Empire, which is why styles of the neoclassical period are called Empire. Another style of the neoclassical period is the Regency style, and novels set during this period are called Regency romances. Regency romances never have sex in them.
Other romance novels have sex in them, and they are still called romance novels, unless there is a lot of sex, and then it is called erotica. If it has even more sex in it, and less romance, it is called pornography, unless it is literary fiction, in which case it is just called fiction. Literary fiction is a genre of fiction which is not genre fiction. All the literary fiction that was ever written is called Western literature, and the first Western literature was written by a man named Homer, who was blind. Western literature does not include westerns, which are a genre of fiction set in the American West, and always have cowboys and sometimes have Indians. Americans write westerns, and lately a lot of Indians write novels. Novels written by Indians are always literature.
So, remember, boys and girls, it’s perfectly natural to want to experiment with genres, and it probably won’t make you go blind, or at least not for a very, very long time.
is out today in the US, from Gotham Books (April for the UK edition from Penguin).
The Western Lit Survival Kit is smart and funny, sweet and savory, smooth and chewy, an entertaining romp through the Western canon with a sly and savvy guide. Here’s the first review, from Kirkus:
A clever tour d’horizon of what you might encounter in a Great Books course in college.
At first glance, Newman’s (Read This Next, 2010, etc.) work comes across as a comedy routine meant to poke many of the received-opinion greats in the eye with a sharp stick, much in the manner of Ovid, one of the author’s favorites. And that is certainly part, but far from all, of the truth. First, a typical zinger: “As a general note, all of Homer’s heroes were illiterates who considered rape and genocide normal. Generations of European boys were raised on Homer. Just saying.” The author is not here to venerate—though Shakespeare gets a pretty deep genuflection—or eviscerate: She appreciates genius and fine, intellectually thrilling writing. With each writer, she gets to the nub of a work or style from the outset (“The Bronte home was a little biosphere of literary misery”), and she is not afraid to venture her true feelings: Of Tristram Shandy: “Page for page, it’s possibly the funniest novel ever.” Newman is a serious fan of humor and a good roll in the hay: e.g., Sappho, Tom Jones and Gargantua and Pantagruel. Montaigne’s Essays also get the nod, as do Dickinson, Kafka, Eliot and a holy host of others. Half the fun here is quibbling with her choices and tinkering with her rating system: How important are the books considered? How accessible are they? How much fun? Newman assigns each a number from 1 to 10, and despite all the levity, she has clearly (if seemingly surreptitiously) read deeply and brought serious rumination to the proceedings.
A sly piece of work—though you still should read the books.
If you’re teaching How Not To Write A Novel in a writing course, let us know. We like to keep tabs on these things. To show our appreciation, you’ll be entered in a drawing to win a copy of the new Teacher’s Edition of How Not To Write A Novel, which offers you the full and unchanged text of the original book, but with a richer, more mature subtext.
(Read about the original How Not To Write A Novel Goes To College here, in this HNTWAN ClassicPost.)
We don’t want you to waste your time with a book that’s not right for you. We want every copy of How Not To Write A Novel to reach only those people who need it most.
To that end, we have designed this simple quiz so that you can find out if your life might be improved by our book.
It has oft been said, and we will say it again, oft; our book is not for everyone. Yes, it is for men and women of all genders, creeds, and sleep numbers. It is for the hot and the not, the tomato and the tom-ah-to, the hokey and the pokey. Whatever your favorite color, there is a home for you at How Not to Write a Novel.
Still, some have come to us and said “How Not to Write a Novel is not for me, for I have an MFA: I have achieved mastery of fine arts. I have wrestled fine arts to the ground, and they have cried like a little girl. I–I–am their master! What use do I, the literary novelist, have for How Not To Write A Novel?”
Nonetheless, we as people and writarians, are for everyone, even if our book is not. (It can be bought by anyone, though, here. A CRAZY bargain!!) It has oft been said that Howard and Sandy are the kind of people whom you either love or hate. How true that is, except for the love part. But those who hate us need our help far, far, more than those who love us, in a hypothetical situation where someone loved us. Those who hate us should seek our help without wasting a second on thought. We know what the nay-sayers will say. They will say nay. But you are a grownup now with a college degree and you can put your fingers in your ears and go “la la la!” until they stop.
Now that you have your MFA, you may think it’s too late for you to write a dreadful novel. Howard! you are thinking, Sandy! How will I ever be able to write the bad novel of my bad dreams??? Quell those fears! Experience teaches us that years of study and training are no obstacle to unreadable, inarticulate prose. For you we have written How Not To Write a Novel II: How Not To Write A Novel Goes to College. The title, not the book. For us to truly exhaust this topic would take months, hundreds of pages, and a substantial advance. But just off the top of our heads, we can offer some tips and techniques to overcome all your time and effort.
In How Not To Write A Novel, we recommend readers take a look at Fowler’s Modern English Usage for a quick lesson in the use of irony, both the term and the device. Realizing now that not everybody has a copy of Fowler close at hand, as a service to our readers we reproduce here the entry on irony from the first edition of H. W. Fowler’s entertaining and instructive usage guide.
Irony is a form of utterance that postulates a double audience, consisting of one party that hearing shall hear & shall not understand, & another party that, when more is meant than meets the ear, is aware both of that more & of the outsiders’ incomprehension. 1. Socratic irony was a profession of ignorance. What Socrates represented as an ignorance & a weakness in himself was in fact a non-committal attitude towards any dogma, however accepted or imposing, that had not been carried back to & shown to be based upon first principles. The two parties in his audience were, first, the dogmatists moved by pity or contempt to enlighten this ignorance, &, secondly, those who knew their Socrates & set themselves to watch the familiar game in which learning should be turned inside out by simplicity. 2. The double audience is essential too to what is called dramatic irony, i.e. the irony of the Greek drama. That drama had the peculiarity of providing the double audience–one party in the secret & the other not–in a special manner. The facts of most Greek plays were not a matter for invention, but were part of every Athenian child’s store of legend; all the spectators, that is, were in the secret beforehand of what would happen. But the characters, Pentheus & Oedipus & the rest, were in the dark; one of them might utter words that to him & his companions on the stage were of trifling import, but to those who hearing could understand were pregnant with the coming doom. The surface meaning for the dramatis personae, & the underlying for the spectators; the dramatist working his effect by irony. 3. And the double audience for the irony of Fate? Nature persuades most of us that the course of events is within wide limits foreseeable, that things will follow their usual course, that violent outrage on our sense of the probable or reasonable need not be looked for; & these “most of us” are the uncomprehending outsiders; the elect or inner circle with whom Fate shares her amusement at our consternation are the few to whom it is not an occasional maxim, but a living conviction, that what happens is the unexpected.
That is an attempt to link intelligibly together three special senses of the word irony, which in its more general sense may be defined as the use of words intended to convey one meaning to the uninitiated part of the audience & another to the initiated, the delight of it lying in the secret intimacy set up between the latter & the speaker; it should be added, however, that there are dealers in irony for whom the initiated circle is not of outside hearers, but is an alter ego dwelling in their own breasts.
For practical purposes a protest is needed against the application of “the irony of Fate”, or of “irony” as short for that, to every trivial oddity:–But the pleasant note changed to something almost bitter as he declared his fear that before them lay a “fight for everything we hold dear”– a sentence that the groundlings by a curious irony were the loudest in cheering (oddly enough)./ It would be an irony of fate, according to many members, if Mr Chamberlain were elected to succeed Mr Balfour, for it was his father who dealt the first blow at Mr Balfour’s ascendancy (interesting)./ “The irony of the thing” said the dairyman who now owns the business “lies in the fact that after I began to sell good wholesome butter in place of this adulterated mixture, my sales fell off 75 per cent.” (“It’s a rum thing that…” seems almost adequate). The irony of fate is, in fact, to be classed now as a HACKNEYED PHRASE.