How to Ruin Your Novel

26 Jun

Don’t Have a Plan

If you’re in the business of ruining your novel and you have a plan, scrap it. Start from scratch. Write whatever comes to your mind, as it comes to your mind. If you like to write this way anyway, be sure to never think ahead. DO NOT figure out how your novel is going to end before you get there.

No plans. Got it?

If you are a writer who will die without an outline, no worries, you can still ruin your novel. Just use the first outline that pops into your head. Don’t revise it. Don’t optimize it.

Don’t Get Feedback

If you’re trying to ruin your story, feedback is the last thing you want. Once you finish your novel, don’t send it out to friends and family. Don’t join a critique group. Just read through it once and send it off to agents.

If they happen to give you some feedback, don’t listen to it.

Do Write With Flowery Prose

Short, concise writing will be good for your novel. You should fill your sentences and paragraphs with fluff. Put in as many adjectives (better yet, adverbs) as you can manage. The more, the better.

Flowery, fat prose will do many things to ruin your novel. It will slow your pacing to a crawl. The more random junk your characters say, the less real they will sound. Your novel will be waaaay longer than it should be. Fluffy prose only has benefits as far as we’re concerned.

Do Take Long Breaks

Yeah, every writer needs breaks, but yours should be super long. I’m talking months or years. This way, when you come back to your novel, you won’t really remember what you’ve been writing, and your work will turn out disjointed. Perfect.

Writing is hard, after all. Taking long breaks will be better for your health.

Working hard on your novel only leads to publication. If you want to ruin your novel, take breaks often and make them as long as you can.

If you happen to be one of those crazy people who actually want to write a best-selling novel, just do the opposite of everything above. It’ll work.

Can you think of any other ways to ruin your novel? I’m always looking for ideas.


16 Responses to “How to Ruin Your Novel”

  1. quirkywritingcorner June 26, 2013 at 8:08 pm #

    Listen to the wrong advice.
    I attended a writing seminar. What was supposed to be 2 hours dropped to 1 hour which would not have been bad if it had been packed with help. Instead, the “prize-winning author” told us not to do any research–just go with the flow. I knew her talk was to be about mythology, but I did not expect the whole time to be spent worshipping one special Celtic god, including 15 minutes of meditation. Going with the flow works when you are in the flow of your writing and need to keep going before losing a train of thought. If I didn’t research, I’d be having my bad guy shooting through brick walls with a .22. Not researching might be fine when you’re creating a fantasy that has no bearing to reality. There’s nothing wrong with meditating. It helps to refocus your thoughts and calm your mind. In yoga I meditate with images of peace and serenity, often including a prayer.
    Maybe I’ll be able to use that seminar as fodder for a novel; then I might feel like I got my money’s worth.
    Like you, I’d like to write a best-selling novel, and still keep my “quirkiness”.

    • Jessica Flory June 26, 2013 at 9:54 pm #

      Oh wow. That sounds crazy! Yeah, I definitely advocate research. Not going crazy with it but enough that you can write without people rolling their eyes because you’re getting your facts totally wrong. Listening to the wrong advice sounds like a great way to ruin your novel 🙂

  2. Pinar Tarhan June 27, 2013 at 6:59 pm #

    Great tips on ruining your novel, though finding friends to read through an entire novel might be tricky… Some are on the lookout for the next fun story, but some play the “too busy” card – and well, but those don’t read that much either…:)

    Do you belong to a critique group?

    • Jessica Flory June 27, 2013 at 9:54 pm #

      It’s true! Finding friends to read your novel is HARD. I do belong to a critique group. Two actually 🙂 Both are great! I think it’s helpful to be in two groups because I get very different feedback from each, and there’s more people all around to send things to. Do you belong to a critique group? What do you do to get people to read your stuff?

      • Pinar Tarhan June 28, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

        I don’t belong to a critique group, unfortunately. I guess I should find one. But it is important that the members comment constructively. Some people love going overboard with the cons. 🙂

        Some of my friends are eager to write whatever, despite the length. One of my friends even said she had passed one of my stories on to her friends and they loved it too. That was lovely to hear.

        It was much easier to get read in high school. Nobody was busy with jobs or marriages or kids. I had formed quite a loyal audience… Ah good old days.

        Now I just joke about future bribes. Like for them to be able to stay over at my California beach house, I should be able to buy a California beach house first…:)

        What’re you currently working on?

  3. Jessica Flory June 28, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

    Haha I love it, Pinar. It’s true! I took that for granted in high school. And I definitely agree that critique group members need to say what they liked as well as what they didn’t like. It’s just as important to know what you’re doing right!
    Right now I am working on a YA SciFi called Bonded and am in the process of world-building and outlining for a YA Fantasy called Tasting Color. I’m very excited about both projects!
    What about you? What are you working on?

    • Pinar Tarhan June 28, 2013 at 8:21 pm #

      Cool! Best of luck, patience and inspiration for both projects:):)

      I’m currently working on formatting a TV series pilot (comedy/drama) and a screenplay (romantic/drama). I want to enter them in a competition, and then they’ll be ready for pitching elsewhere.

  4. Jessica Flory June 28, 2013 at 9:40 pm #

    Thanks! I will need all three of those 🙂
    And good luck to you, too! Both sound like cool projects. Drop a comment somewhere and let me know how the competition goes!

  5. A Writer Inspired July 1, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

    Another thing that ruins novels is poor character development and stereotypes. Great list by the way I’m doing my best to NOT do any of the things above 😉

    • Jessica Flory July 1, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

      Soooo true! Poor character development will do wonders to ruin a novel.

  6. Damien July 13, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

    Certainly helpful advice in this post. In reaction to the first comment, I think that maybe when the writer at the seminar said not to do research, it might have been meant to not let research come at the expense of your writing. Surely, research needs to be done, because if your details aren’t totally authentic then your story won’t be believable. But getting bogged down in research is one way that ‘writers’ can feel like they’re writing when they are actually not writing. I know a number of ‘writers’ who are constantly ‘doing research for their novel.’ You know what almost never, ever actually gets written? Yes, their novel. Research can be done while writing your first draft and focused on in your second draft and third drafts. Your first draft is for writing like crazy.

    In terms of outline, I do agree that making one is important, but I would also highlight that a writer should NOT be afraid to veer from that outline. Like, rampantly if need be. A first draft of a novel should be a mess, it should have lots of long arms, even hastily added characters, and loose ends. I think that letting yourself run wild and free in your first draft is the best way to fully explore your story, and thereby find the best story within it. Then you carefully carve it out and make it into a concise, chiseled story.

    One last point on giving your book to a friend. I do a workshop for the students at the university where I teach and I recommend ‘Picking a guy.’ And by this, I mean when you start writing the book, choose one or two people (at most) to give the book to when you finish. Choose them carefully and specifically. I am handing my current novel to my editor and my funniest friend. My funniest friend, because he knows comedy, and this is a comedic novel, and my editor because she’s a genius and a heartless wench (joking) who will tell me what sucks, what needs work, and give recommendations. Don’t give your book to a buddy who has a passing interest, choose a friend and let them know why you want them specifically to read it. On top of showing them that they are not a random choice, you will also make them proud that they were chosen for this project that means so much to you.

    • Jessica Flory July 13, 2013 at 10:07 pm #

      Awesome, Damien! You have great advice. I agree that research in moderation is necessary, the bad thing is when it replaces writing.

      I don’t necessarily agree that a first draft should be a total mess, though it can be. I think that if you’ve optimized your outline before you started writing, the first draft can come out as something coherent. It just depends on what type of writer you are. The scary thing about having a wild first draft is when authors think they’ve written that and all it needs now is a few tweaks and some minor edits. Optimization of your novel must happen, whether during the outlining stage or during the drafting process.

      Fantastic tips about giving your book to friends! Perfect. I think that people who know you’ve chosen them specifically, for a reason, and that you’re counting on them will be much more likely to actually read it and make valuable comments.

      • Damien July 14, 2013 at 12:03 am #

        Hey! Well, thank you for your excellent feedback! I totally agree that a first draft should be a coherent work, but I do think that it is when a writer should explore and exploit the piece to any extent they see fit. As for the tweaking and writing after, well, a writer has to be their own Rodan, right?

  7. Jessica Flory July 14, 2013 at 2:41 am #

    Haha for sure! A first draft is definitely a great place to explore your story, and I agree that writers shouldn’t hesitate to deviate from their outline. Thanks for your insightful and helpful comments!


  1. How to Find a Writing Critique Group | Story Tips - July 3, 2013

    […] to read through an entire novel might be tricky…” That was a comment from Pinar Tarhan on How to Ruin Your Novel. And it’s so true! But writers are terrible at judging their own work. Even if your friends and […]

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