Have you ever wanted to write a novel? Have you ever had an idea for a story—two lovers separated by warring families or a woman preparing for a party who thinks about it with very little punctuation involved or a girl with a big thumb goes hitchhiking—only to discover that those same ideas have already been written about by less-gifted writers than yourself? I’ll bet you kicked yourself then, saying, “Gosh darnit! If only I had had the guts to write MY story about a guy who buys a house in Long Island and throws parties and pines for his ex-love and watches a green light a lot, I’d be on easy street right now!”
Mr. Fantastic Fiction knows how you feel. Why, Mr. Fantastic Fiction had the idea of an alien who falls in love with a dental hygienist’s plaque scraping instrument—the same instrument, it turns out, that was responsible for the fluoride rebellion against his home planet that stranded him in a dentist’s office in New Jersey. Was Mr. Fiction surprised to discover that was already the plot of Tennessee Williams’s seminal play, “The Glass Menagerie,” when one read the subtle subtext? Was Mr. Fiction daunted by this? Did he drink heavily and make inappropriate phone calls to the local pizzeria until the manager of said pizzeria drove by in the Pizza Wagon, screaming obscenities just before he decorated Mr. Fantastic Fiction’s rental with a delightfully fragrant spray of anchovies and pizza dough? Honestly, you make me laugh with that. See? I am typing laughter: Hahahahahaha! I can even type laughter in all caps to convey deep feeling, like this: HAHAHAHAHA!!! This is just one of the many, many tips and tricks you will learn when you take Mr. Fantastic Fiction’s Fantastic Fiction Can Work for You and You and Even YOU!™ course.
You, yes YOU, could be earning tens of dollars a year in the exciting, fast-paced world of publishing starting RIGHT NOW! Mr. Fantastic Fiction will show you how for the low, introductory price of $19.99! Are you excited? Huh? Are you? If you were writing this right now and Mr. Fantastic Fiction were YOUR audience, he’d be saying, “Heck, yeah, I’m excited! Let me turn off that episode of “Saved by the Bell” that I’ve seen at least 10 times since I got my pink slip from the temp office job where I learned a valuable lesson about not photocopying your butt after the holiday party so that you can tell me more!”
And so I will, friend.
Once upon a time, Mr. Fantastic Fiction was just a poor schlub with a mind-numbing desk job where he was forced to catalog artificial limbs and place them in freezer bags while his office mate surfed mail-order bride websites on the company’s Soviet-era-grade computers. But not anymore! Since Mr. Fantastic Fiction learned “The 10 Easy Steps to Writing a Novel that You Can Learn, Too, As Long As You Don’t Have a Brain Injury!™” his life is the Stuff of Dreams™! Picture Mr. Fantastic now—sitting by a cozy fire, nattily dressed in a corduroy jacket, his faithful dog, Tolstoy, at his heels, a glass of good port in his hand, a sense of satisfaction-creeping-toward-smug-contempt-for-others settling over his face after a job well done.
Picturing things is essential to the writer. Can you picture it? Can you? I’m asking. I really wish you would have the courtesy to answer instead of making Mr. Fiction repeat things.
So, picture Mr. Fantastic Fiction there by the fire. For legal reasons, it isn’t technically my fire. Or really my dog. And the jacket says, “E-Z Car and Chicken Coop Rental.” But these points are as incidental as a hot breeze in Hell that carries bits of sand in it that get in your teeth and you can’t spit them out no matter how many times you try or wipe your tongue across your sleeve and go “ptooey” because they are impossible-to-remove grains of sand because you are in Hell where that kind of stuff happens and where hot breezes are, frankly, the least of your problems. What I have just written is an example of a simile. Mr. Fantastic Fiction will show you how to wield simile like a kung fu artist wields her fists of fury right before the bad guy mentions he has her kid brother in an undisclosed warehouse with a bomb strapped to his chest and the kid brother, who also has a Very Sympathetic Disability™ will explode if the kung fu artist doesn’t give up the secret microchip she keeps in her back pocket behind the nunchuks the bad guy sabotaged while she was sleeping in his heavily guarded compound because she wasn’t aware that her cover had been blown and so didn’t realize they were monitoring all of her secret communiqués related via her lipstick case and now she is royally screwed because she can either give up the microchip and face torture and death and the betrayal of her nation or she can kick some bad guy booty and come home to a sandwich bag of exploded kid brother bits that will haunt her for the rest of her life or at least into the sequel where she has a serious drinking problem and has to be coaxed by a gruff cop who is also her former partner into picking up her nunchuks again—the ones that now have her kid brother’s initials etched into them with a soldering iron because the kung fu artist also makes Sensitive Artist Burned-Wood Wall Plaques™ of forest scenes so that we know that, on the inside, she is suffering and also she is a gentle soul who appreciates both nature and soldering irons despite her life of killing people in very bloody ways. That is another simile. You see how easy this is once you understand the Principles of Figurative Language™?
Mr. Fantastic Fiction would give you more simile, but you are just starting out, and Mr. Fiction doesn’t want to hurt you with the blinding light of his mad writing skillz. “Mad writing skillz” is a term Mr. Fiction learned while spending the worst two months of his life teaching summer school English to high school students bent on his destruction. He also learned some terms which cannot be repeated here but suffice to say that if the Eskimos have 100 words for love, high school students bent on your destruction have at least that many for “asshole.”
Today, before you whip out that credit card to order your Yes, I Would Like to Write My Own Novel with Very Little Effort Starter Pack with Special Hemingway and His Fishing Pole Light-Up Pen™ I would like to give you a small taste of what treasures you, the novice writer, will find inside. (And remember, novice doesn’t mean stupid. Stupid is my cousin, Misty, who thought she was buying the actual Han Solo on eBay instead of a butt-ugly plaster cast of him made by a lonely housewife in Des Moines. Misty—newsflash: Han Solo IS NOT A REAL PERSON! He was played by an actor named Harrison Ford who also played Indiana Jones and then stopped making movies and started dating that skinny chick who used to be Ally McBeal. Sheesh. And I would greatly appreciate it if you would give me back my Writers Have Cleaner Colons, Period. t-shirt which, I might remind you, you promised to give back to me after your parole hearing. I am still waiting, Misty. Be honorable.)
Anyway, today, Mr. Fantastic Fiction will debunk a few common myths surrounding the writing of a novel. These pernicious myths were begun by people who want you to think that writing a novel involves a lot of hard work. Poppycock! (Actually, Mr. Fiction typed “Poopycoke!” but that is because Mr. Fiction has had a hard, hard day. A day of writing, yes, but that is not hard because, as Mr. Fiction has pointed out, which you would know if you bother to read at all, that Writing is Friggin’ Fun, Dammit™!, as explained in his brand-new course and in the follow-up course, Well, Why Don’t YOU Try to Do It, Then, If You’re So Smart?™)
Let’s get to our myth debunking before Mr. Fiction’s computer privileges are revoked, shall we?
Myth #1: Before you write a novel, you should read a lot of books.
“Hey, HO!” Mr. Fantastic Fiction says, removing the pipe from his mouth and giving his dog, Tolstoy, a scratch behind the ears. “How many times have we heard that hoary old chestnut trotted out? And yes, I know you can’t really trot out a chestnut, and I am mixing my metaphor, but Mr. Fiction is impervious to the Bourgeois Rules of Poopypants Writing™ and soon, you will be, too. Friends, there are books out there written by people who have quite obviously NEVER READ A BOOK IN THEIR LIVES! Has it stopped them from writing? Heavens, no! Now, Maureen J., from New York, NY, writes: “Shouldn’t reading be a prerequisite for writing and for learning craft? I mean, the more you read, the more you know. The more paints you have in your paintbox, if you will.”
Clearly, you need to read my booklet, “Pffffft on You!™ in which I discuss how people like you try to make it hard for the rest of us. Also, please refrain from using descriptive language and analogy until you have mastered the Writing is a Rainbow That Can Kill You Basics Course™. There are innocent souls reading this who could easily be hurt. Can you imagine what would happen if simile and metaphor fell into untrained hands? It would be like that scene in a movie where the killer is upstairs and you know it but no matter how much you scream at the screen you can’t stop the babysitter from going up the stairs so very slowly while calling out, “Hello? Hello? Is somebody up there?” Of course there’s somebody up there, you idiot, and he’s got a big chainsaw! So get. Off. The. Stairs! But no matter how much you shout, “Door! Door! Door, door, doordoordoor! Run for the door!” she doesn’t hear you because she doesn’t understand that there is a killer upstairs.
You, Maureen, would apparently like to push her up those stairs toward her certain horrible, gruesome, wall-splat-of-gratuitous blood doom. I know your type, Maureen, and you are the wrong sort to enjoy either my Scent of a Writer Body Lotion with Sparkle™ or 30-hour Smells Like I’m Writing!™ soy wax candle for optimum novel-producing pleasure. Mr. Fiction CARES, Maureen, okay? These are the sorts of things Mr. Fiction LIVES WITH. These are the burdens Mr. Fiction SHOULDERS while you go around being all, “Oh, it’s important to read lots of books if you want to be a good writer.” I pray to God you haven’t damaged anyone here today with your carelessness, Maureen. I really do.
Myth #2: There are no original ideas, just original voices.
Actually, this is fairly true. Most plots have been used more than the Kleenex in the pocket of my brother Stan’s winter coat that he never bothers to get cleaned and which smells like an overheated school gymnasium after double overtime. Ahah! Do you see what Mr. Fiction just did there without even trying? Do you see how personal experience can be turned into publishing gold? You’ll learn more about this in my Turning Unpleasant Experiences Into Publishing Gold, or Nothing Says I Hate You So Hard Like Writing About People Who’ve Done You Wrong™ (Available only as part of Writing As Revenge Holiday Gift Set™. Comes complete with Rejection is Love Spelled with Different Letters™ stress ball. Gift wrap not available.)
But, wait! What’s with those frowny faces? Uh-oh…I can see somebody needs to order the special, illustrated guide, The Pu-Pu Platter of Plot™ for the Call-Now-and-Save price of $7.95! With The Pu-Pu Platter of Plot™ at your disposal, never again will you have to wrack your brain thinking up new and exciting plotlines. Simply match a subject from Column A and pair it with an action from Column B, and voila! You’ve got a tasty dish of novel that practically prepares itself! For example:
A. Girl falls in love… 1. …with a toaster strudel possessed by Satan.
B. Boy gets arrested… 2. …on the night of the big roller boogie Masonic Temple musical
C. A lovable cat escapes… 3. …while being vaccinated with a secret government serum that turns its victims into soulless, Dance, Dance Revolution champions
D. A teen heartthrob hides out… 4. …with a gang of ruthless criminals trying to take down a kung fu artist whose kid brother has been wired with a bomb
The Pu-Pu Platter of Plot is one of Mr. Fantastic Fiction’s bestsellers. I think it’s not hard to see why.
Myth #3: Writing is Rewriting
Honestly, this is the sort of claptrap that would drive Mr. Fantastic Fiction to drink if he weren’t currently wearing an ankle bracelet monitor awarded to him courtesy of New Jersey’s Finest. Writers are frequently misunderstood artists, and Mr. Fiction is no exception. And sometimes one must relieve oneself in the park at 3:00 a.m. in order to Free the Muse. Here is a fact: People will not always understand your pain as a writer. For more on this, please order the self-help guide, Other People Are Visionless Idiots™.
Now, I have said it before and I will say it again, but not differently for that would be needless revision: Rewriting Is for Amateurs!™ Say it loud, say it proud: REWRITING IS FOR AMATEURS! Of course, there will always be naysayers. For instance, John G., of Indianapolis, Indiana, writes: “But Mr. Fiction, surely you’re not suggesting that we abandon the process of culling through our own work, searching for those little falsehoods we put in to protect ourselves from the truth, falsehood that must be ruthlessly weeded from the text? Isn’t the act of writing all about revising in the pursuit of clarity and truth and deeper understanding of the human condition? To paraphrase Coleridge and Bunny Gabler, isn’t it about ‘The right words in the right order in service to the story?”
Oh, John, John, John,
You amuse me with your trifles and your Coleridge quotes. You know what truth is, John? Truth is somebody’s brat taking up the trombone in the apartment above you. Truth is a girl named Trixie telling everybody in the fifth grade that you are a bed wetter. Truth is the networks canceling “Veronica Mars” but renewing “The Real World.” In short, John, truth is a royal buzz kill.
Writing truth takes time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears. It hurts, John. And nobody likes to hurt. And don’t go quoting that R.E.M. song, John, because Mr. Fiction isn’t having that today. The whole purpose of developing “The 10 Easy Steps to Writing a Novel that You Can Learn, Too As Long As You Don’t Have a Brain Injury!™” is to make writing simple. I mean, the word “easy” is right there in the title, John. Do you see that? Can you read? Or DO you have a brain injury? I wonder. Do me a favor, John. Go back to grad school. They like suffering there. They’ll give you a diploma for it. But stop wasting Mr. Fiction’s valuable time.
Myth #4: It takes a lot of time and effort to get to know your characters.
Ah, this is one of Mr. Fantastic Fiction’s favorite little literary lies. (That, by the way, is “alliteration.” We’ll cover that in the chapter, Assonance Isn’t a Dirty Word and Other Tasty Techniques for Titillating Text™) I like to think of approaching character as rather like approaching someone in a club. It can go smoothly, as in Mr. Fiction’s You Smell Good to Me: Making Your Characters Come Home with You Effortlessly™, or it can go very, very wrong.
Let’s first see how Mr. Fiction does it, shall we?
Sample #1. A club. Anywhere, USA.
“Hello, what’s your name?”
“My name is Character Name.”
“Nice to meet you, Character Name. Say, you seem like a lovely person. Would you like to be in my novel?”
“Okay, great. Just write down everything about yourself while I groove to The Killers.”
“It would be my pleasure.”
“And please don’t be offended if I decide that instead of having original character traits particular only to you, I assign you an identity easily recognized such as ‘mean cheerleader’ or ‘smart, nerdy science geek’ or a ‘kung fu expert with a drinking problem and a sideline as a soldering iron artist.’”
“Sure. No problem.”
You see how simple that was? And how very quick? One needn’t tarry in the stinking bowels of character development hell. Now, let’s compare this to the “hard” way most novelists approach character development, which is like a date gone wrong in a club where you had to wait behind the velvet ropes for two hours (even though there was no one else in line) because the bouncer didn’t like the looks of you and your Members Only jacket. Let’s see how this plays out:
Sample #2, aka, “The Wrong Way”
“Hi, my name’s Mr. Fantastic Fiction.”
(rolling eyes) “I’ll bet it is.”
“What’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you, Miss Off. Say, that’s a wonderful outfit you have on. Would you like to tell me about it so that I might relay the aspects of your inner character through your appearance?”
“Would you like me to call a cop?”
(nervous laughter) “Hey, HO!”
(rising suddenly and menacingly.) “Excuse me? Did you just call me a “ho”?”
“Er, no! That is simply the sound I make when I am laughing. ‘Ho-HO,’ with an emphasis on the second syllable, as if I were a jaunty, academic sort who fancies wine tastings and prep school discussions of the relative hotness of Emma Bovary versus Anna Karenina. Even our laughter suggests something of character.‘Hey, HO!’ See?”
“No. Not seeing. Would like not seeing you in my field of vision. Okay, turning away and turning back and…you’re still here. Why is that?”
“Would you like to dance and tell me about yourself?”
“Is my other option being forced to gargle with broken glass?”
“Stop. Doing. That. Oh my god…is that a Members Only jacket? What, is it eighties night tonight? Did you raid your dad’s closet or something?”
“I am a connoisseur of fine outerwear.”
“Why do I have the feeling you’re a connoisseur of crap?”
“Hey, H—sorry. I say, would you like to go back to my apartment and watch my blu-ray disc copy of Star Trek XV: The Wrath of Kubla Khan in Pleasure Dome Decree? I can play it on my PlayStation 3. The picture quality is excellent.”
“*snort*. Did you by any chance have to go to a “special room” to get that DVD?”
“Certainly not. Say, I like your spirit.”
“Why are you talking like that?”
“All fake British and stuff.”
“It’s not fake British. It’s authorial.”
(under her breath) “Asshat.”
“You smell nice.”
“Move away from me or I will mace you so hard.”
You see? Why spend fruitless hours trying to “get to know” the elusive nuances of your characters? What a waste of time and trouble! With Mr. Fantastic Fiction’s course, you need never be bothered by such trifles again and you’ll have plenty of time to watch your blu-ray discs played loudly so as to drown out that brat upstairs and his hideous trombone mangling.
Myth #5: You should write every day. The more you write, the more you force yourself to work through the hard stuff by just sitting down and doing it, the better you will get.
Well, that’s a lulu, isn’t it?
I don’t think most people realize that many of our most beloved authors did NOT, in fact, spend hours working on their craft.
For instance, Shakespeare ran an Elizabethan Intramural Sports Team called “Tudor Tetherballers United.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald only wrote for an hour a day so that it would not cut into his time drinking.
Harper Lee organized popular “To Kill a Mockingbird” hunting parties every weekend.
And I’m sure you’ve heard of Charles Dickens’ fabulous line of Victorian maternity wear, “Great Expectations”?
Why, I’d wager these famous authors are even now looking down from where they sit, saying, “Bitch, please. Who writes everyday? Chumps, that’s who!” And those who follow the Fantastic Fiction method are no chumps!
I say you should write only when you feel like it. In my booklet, If You Tell Yourself that Rationalizing Isn’t the Same Thing as Making Excuses, You’re Absolutely Right™, Mr. Fantastic Fiction will guide you through role play and proper responses to people who see you lying on the couch, feeding your muse with an episode or six of “Antiques Roadshow”, and ask you sarcastically how that “novel’s” coming along. You’ll learn such valuable rebuttals as, “It’s coming along fine since I ate your cat and absorbed its magic into my brain,” “Shhhh! Nabokov watched at least eight uninterrupted hours a day of television before writing a word. Now I have to start all over!” and “We’re out of pizza. Make yourself useful.”
Writing every day? Phssst! That, as they say, is crazy talk. Just remember, if you’re stumped: WWMFFD™? What, indeed.
Well, that’s all the time Mr. Fantastic Fiction has for now since his boss, Mr. Unapologetic Polyester Wearer, is making a beeline for the back room where Mr. Fantastic’s use of the company computer will surely be discovered. Mr. Fiction will be back with another installment soon. In the meantime, I’ve been asked to post the following from somebody calling herself “Libba Bray,” which sounds like the phoniest author name since J.T. LeRoy.
Stay strong, would-be writers! And to order Mr. Fantastic Fiction’s comprehensive course on Easy-Peasy Writing™, send cash, check, money order, or bail bonds to: Mr. Fantastic Fiction, c/o EZ Car and Chicken Coop Rental, Basement Level, Access Road 28B, Pamona, New Jersey 18751.
Yours in Effortless Novel Writing,
Mr. Fantastic Fiction