When you ask five year olds what they want to be when they grow up, most of them say something like a fireman or a ballerina or a veterinarian. Later, when they''re older and realize that most of these jobs require flexibility or at least professional licensure, most kids opt for jobs that require minimal effort, like professional bowling or fortune telling. The sad reality of the matter, however, is that when these kids finally do become of age, ready to fulfill the dreams of a misspent youth, they all end up being financial advisors for major credit card companies.
Where did they go wrong, you ask?
The problem, it turns out, isn''t obvious. The quick answer is that these children, like most, consistently set the bar too high when, in reality, none of them is that talented or good looking. That''s the easy answer and probably what you were thinking. But I''m not like you. I''m not about easy answers. I''m about solutions. And the solution isn''t to lower the bar. I say get rid of the bar.
Just write a best selling literary masterpiece.
If you think about it, it makes sense. Best selling authors have it made. You don''t have a real job, so you sit and think and write for however long you deem necessary. When you get bored of that, you can move to another room to sit and watch the royalty checks come in. The point is there''s lots of sitting.
Plus, after the first best seller, you don''t have to write anything else of worth. Normal people don''t actually read; they simply buy important or popular books and place them prominently around their houses, waiting for others to recognize the purchases and lavish them with compliments.
But, you say, I''m not a literary genius. In fact, I can''t even spell genius. I just looked it up.
That, my friends, is why I''m here. I''m going to guide you on a journey through the exciting world of the literary elite. My program will give you several tips that can turn even the least talented writer into Hemingway. Or at least Jackie Collins. Because you don''t have to be able to spell genius to spell literary masterpiece. Plus, as long as you get close, spell check usually picks it up.
Lesson 1: Attitude
To be a best selling literary author, you''ve got to have the author''s frame of mind. You need a fix. If you don''t drink, you should start, and if you do drink, you should drink more. Lots of authors depend on alcohol to write successfully. Plus, if your writing is poor, you can pass blame. That''s what we in the writing world call a win-win.
If you don''t want to drink, you do have other options. Drugs are a popular choice, especially with fantasy novelists and self-help authors. Self-loathing and mutual despair, both popular choices in the 1950s, are also making a comeback. But don''t go for the first fix you come across. Instead, try a few different problems and see which ones fit. And remember: be patient. Like so many valuable things in life, real addiction can''t be rushed.
Another central issue is sounding important. Everything must sound important. If you''re writing about clowns in Iowa, you must publicly refer to your work as "a project about the use of comedic tragedy in post modern capitalistic societies". On second thought, it''s better to just answer any question about your work by saying, "I can hardly explain it to myself, let alone to the likes of you people." Then flip something over and pretend to talk in French on your cell phone.
Tip: Practice your public speaking voice in the mirror. See if you can affect an Australian accent.
Now you''re ready to start writing.
Lesson 2: Openings
The start to any good novel requires patience and self-discipline. Most of the first lines that you come up with are terrible and stupid, even for children''s books. That''s embarrassing to you and to your reader. So you need to learn how to separate the winning openings from the losers.
Luckily, I''ve devised an exercise that helps make this dream into a reality. Below are several sentences. One of them is the first sentence to Jonathan Franzen''s The Corrections, a National Book Award winner. The others I made up, piss drunk. See if you can pick the best seller.
- A)That''s not a knife. This is a knife.
B)You''ll find out at the end of the book that his mom was the real killer.
C)The madness of an autumn prairie cold front coming through.
D)His grandmother never knew about the pornography until she looked in the attic.
E)Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
If you said C, you''re correct. If you didn''t say C, I would like you to stop where you are and pack your things and leave. This obviously isn''t working out. It''s not you; it''s me.
Tip: Repeat sentence A in the Australian accent.
Lesson 3: Body and Sentence Structure.
The body of your piece determines what happens in your book. Like real life, every body is different. Some are freakishly large but strangely attractive, while others have a good body and a terrible face. The point is, like in real life, all bodies can use at least some cosmetic surgery.
Although I could preach on and on about the different attributes of the body, I won''t. Instead, I''ll focus on the most common surgical procedures, the tits and ass of novel writing; book length and sentence structure.
Longness, in a novel, is important. The old legends of novel fame, the Faulkner''s, the Nabokov''s, the other Russian guy''s, all had long novels. Many of these novels weren''t read, except by an elite group of bored rich people that had time to get through these dense pieces of literature. Those people, feeling the urge to rationalize what they had just spent so much time doing, decided to call those long works masterpieces. The rest of the public, not wanting to take the time to actually read the books, obliged and went along with the ploy. Point being, you never can really go wrong making your novel longer. Chapters towards the end can be sloppy first draft material. Hell, most real authors even incorporate material from other sources. For instance, it''s rumored that in Tolstoy''s War and Peace, chapters 58 and 59, are word for word the C-Ch volume of the 1976 World Book Encyclopedia.
Just making your novel long isn''t going to cut it if the sentences aren''t dense and intellectual. Quick, short sentences are easy to read and may make the reader feel superior to the author. This isn''t good. The reader should feel battered and scared throughout the book, worried about not knowing a word and panic-stricken for not having a clue what''s going on. To give you a sense of what I''m talking about, I will use two simple sentences and then show you how to make them literary.
Example 1: Jamie had to pee but had stage fright. A strong sentence, no doubt, but not nearly as literary as it could be. Observe: A deep animalistic urge crept through Jamie''s loins, a golden fire of unspeakable force begged Jamie to escape into the wild but, alas, he was incapable of releasing such a force in a public forum; his was an act of solitary confinement and it was to be kept as such.
Do you see why this sentence is so much more literary than the first? It uses lots of adjectives, metaphors and large words to make a simple point. The reader has a vague idea of what''s going on but doesn''t ever really know. It''s basically flawless. Let''s look at another.
Example 2: OJ killed Nicole because she slept with Ron.
Literary makeover: Nicole''s passionate cries of lustful infidelity tore at the inner workings of OJ''s soul, shattered the peaceful sanctity that wealth and privilege endow and provided OJ with the antecedent to engage in unlawful poking with an anti-blunt object.
I think this sentence speaks for itself. I mean, what better way to describe something sharp than saying anti-blunt? If that doesn''t scream Oprah''s Book Club, I''m out of ideas.
Tip: Write a simple word and then use the thesaurus program to find other, more complicated versions of that word. Replace your first word with the longest one you can''t pronounce.
Lesson 4: Dialogue
Dialogue is the married sex of the novel world. It''s standard, unexciting and awkward for others to look at. Too many authors are afraid to experiment with dialogue so they keep it out of their books, choosing instead to keep a narrative voice that lacks the edge and sex appeal that readers desperately crave to fill the voids in their own lives.
I, on the other hand, love to use dialogue in innovative and exotic ways. If there''s any way to make your novel stand out from the pack, snappy dialogue will do it. But take heed: The sentences I offer here aren''t up to my usual literary standards. I''ve dumbed them down so that anyone can understand my points. Normally, of course, I use many more adverbs.
Rule 1: Hello!!! Exclamation Points!!!
There is a reason that, when God created the keyboard, he put the exclamation point above the number 1. Because it''s so damn important!!! Exclamation points bring dialogue into a whole new world of excitement, anger and loud confusion! Suddenly, no one can believe anything that is being said! Don''t believe me!? F*** you!!
"Hey Bill. Have you seen the key to the bathroom? Grandma''s drunk again."
This sentence comes a dime a dozen. But, now watch what happens:
"Hey Bill!!! Have you seen the key to the bathroom??!!! Grandma''s drunk again!!"
Holy shit! Why is everyone shouting? Is Grandma ok?
That''s just it. You don''t know if Grandma''s ok. Before you just assumed she was drunk as usual, but now, with the addition of exclamation points, maybe something worse happened. Or maybe people are just speaking loudly. Either way, you''re going to be much wealthier.
Rule 2: Creating Awkward Silences
Just as in real life, an awkward silence in the middle of a conversation can dramatically improve the entire storyline.
"It''s nice to finally meet you Mr. Johnson. I''ve heard so much about you."
"How often do you have sex with my daughter? Ball park figure."
Can''t you just feel the tension?
Another way is through description. Watch.
"Well, your mother wasn''t always such the ''prude'' you think she is now."
A tumbleweed blew by.
See what the tumbleweed did? It paints the scene to better allow you to imagine a father telling his kids about the sexual proclivities of their mother. By knowing when not to use dialogue, the author tells the reader, "I know when and when not to use dialogue."
Lesson 5: Writer''s Block
Octavia Butler, on page 209 of The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, calls Writer''s Block " that feeling of dead emptiness and fear, that "can''t write!" feeling that isn''t quite on par with "can''t breathe!" but is almost as unnerving".
I can''t think of anything to write about that.
Lesson 6: Ending your masterpiece.
How do you know when to end your piece? What sentence should end it? Should it include an exclamation point? These are the eternal questions to be answered. I don''t have much to say, only that you should end your masterpiece in the middle of a sentence. Nothing will leave your readers in more amazement than finally reaching the last page of the book and being left there hanging. It also begs sequel. Here''s a little taste of what I''m talking about to send you on your way:
"Oh, now I finally see," James Taylor said, reaching into his apron, "The whole point of the last five years of my life can be summed up by in two simple words. Swe.."
A tumbleweed blew by.
It''s like shooting fish in a barrel.