Monday, July 12, 2010

Review: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing a Novel

It has happened to all of us. You’ve read hundreds of mysteries and finally you decide you could do as well as any of us authors. You’re ready to try your hand at creating a bestseller, but you don’t know where to start. The answer may be to pick up a copy of the newly-published second edition of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing a Novel by Tom Monteleone.

I must tell you that this article qualifies as Blatant Pal Promotions. I met Tom Monteleone at a writer's conference and we became pretty good buds. Still, I think I can say objectively that this book is perfect for the first time novelist because it covers all the basic elements of the novel, plus the various tactics and processes to make it happen. And when it comes to writing what sells, Monteleone knows what he’s talking about. He’s published more than 100 short stories and 25 novels, including The Blood of the Lamb which was both a bestseller and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

“Regardless of how many novels writers produce, the real barometer is whether people like reading them,” Monteleone says. “As far as that goes, I’ve had my share of rave reviews and dedicated fans over the years so, yeah, I’d say I’ve been doing the job well enough to qualify to write an Idiot’s Guide.”

Clearly one of the acquisition editors for the Complete Idiot’s Guide series agreed, because he asked Monteleone’s agent to put him on the case. And the first edition was a hit, remaining one of the ten most popular Idiot’s Guides for the last five years. Despite that success, Monteleone felt the need to freshen the book for a second edition.

“I had to go through the entire book and do a lot of updating—economically and culturally, and even technologically,” he says. “That part of the job makes you realize how fast things can change. I added a section to examine the new arena of e-publishing. And I included more interviews with some of today’s best-selling writers - Dean Koontz, Lee Child, Heather Graham, and a few others.”

The book also includes tons of advice on agents and editors, illustrated by clever stories and anecdotes with an informal approach that seems perfect for beginners.

“I wrote the book in a very informal, conversational style so it would be accessible and easy to read,” Monteleone says. “I wanted it to sound like the reader was sitting with me on the steps of the front porch just talking writing. And I get letters and email every week from people who’ve bought the book—from high school kids to doctors and lawyers to retirees - who claim to have gotten tons of great advice, info, and encouragement from my Guide.”

But Monteleone is quick to add that this book’s value is not restricted to rank beginners.

“I honestly feel that writers who have never written anything longer than a vignette to those who’ve pounded out several novel-length manuscripts are all going to get something out of my book, because I cover a lot more than just the essential mechanics. Lots of people who want to write have little understanding of how the publishing industry works, or things like time-management, subsidiary rights, trade shows and literary agents.”

This book is filled with the wisdom of those who have been there and done that, like Thriller Master David Morrell who said he believed he could teach you how to write clean, grammatical, stylish sentences, but he could never teach you WHAT to write well—that has to come from that dark well of imagination and need.

However, Monteleone says that the single most important thing anyone should derive from his book is that writing a novel has to be fun.

“The need to write may come from any number of magical psychological sources,” he says, “fired by engines of fear or love or even a simple sense of wonder about the world. But I honestly believe you can’t really be a successful writer if you do it out of obligation. If you approach it like that, it becomes a job, rather than a joy. And your lack of enjoyment will show up in your prose.”

While interviewing Monteleone about The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing a Novel I couldn’t resist asking (with tongue in cheek) if his guide to writing a novel was actually written for the complete idiot. He replied that in fact the opposite was true.

“Even though I’ve written my book in a most easy-going style, I think it’s for people who have intelligence, wit, and imagination. Even the clumsiest of novels were written by people with an earnest belief in their abilities, a determination that remained undaunted, and one more thing: a mind fueled by curiosity and the need to create the same in others.

Nothing idiotic about that.”


Helen Ginger said...

I love the idea of a Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing a Novel. I hadn't heard of this one before but will take a look at it the next time I'm in a store.

Anonymous said...

Best suggestion (and the easiest) I ever got was "enjoy writing-if you don't, the reader won't either!"
And I do! LOL
Jackie Griffey

Anon E. said...

just what I did with my blog here: