How To Write A Literary Novel: A Few Pointers For Getting Started - Tom Cox

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Wednesday, 6 July 2011

How To Write A Literary Novel: A Few Pointers For Getting Started

* Writing a literary novel is incredibly tough, so you should be well-prepared for the fact that life is not going to be normal while you're doing it, and your social life will fall by the wayside. The process takes untold dedication and sacrifice. Though it's worth keeping in mind that you can skip a fair bit of that if you just make sure you write the words "roiling" and "brackish" a lot.

* It's good to choose a title for your literary novel with someone who's someone's relative in it. Everyone has relatives, so it will give the book a universal appeal. Also, try to evoke an ambience of a pastoral nature. For example, I have decided to call my novel 'The Uphill Gardener's Nephew'.

* While writing your literary novel, pay close attention to the skies, their hues and patterns. What do they remind you of? Remember that by properly creating a picture of a good sky, you can really help a reader get inside a dramatic scene. Failing that, just keep describing them as "gunmetal grey".

* Think about getting some quotes for your book's jacket from some well-known names on the literary scene. Who might like your literary novel? Tim Lott, Hilary Mantel and Maggie O'Farrell have never actually written any books or journalism of their own, but give between 60,000 and 70,000 words of quotes away during the course of an average year, so maybe try them?

* In today's publishing world, it's increasingly important to think of your branding so, upon choosing your author shot for your jacket, make sure you find one that fits in with the book. If you have written a tender love story set amidst the final days of the Boer War, maybe don't use that photo from last year's Waveney Otters reunion, when Ian was bending down in front of you against the garage and you had the fox mask on and were pretending that traffic cone was your nob.

* Not many people under the age of thirty write good literary novels. This is because they have not had the life experience to weave the complex fabric of wisdom and narrative necessary to a good book. The best novels are full of paragraphs that simultaneously move the plot along and pass on facts about things and people that the reader can take into their own lives, enhancing them in the process. For example: "After killing Ambrose Stoneman, Sheila went down the street, turned left, then right, and caught a bus to Carl's house. She stood in the kitchen, and looked at the stuff that was in it. '27,' she thought to herself, 'is generally perceived to be the best age for a table.'."

* Try to set at least one pivotal scene of your literary novel against the backdrop of the Twin Towers. Even if it's not actually about the Twin Towers, or it's set in The Malvern Hills, try to mention them. Say something like "Looking at the rubble of the childhood den where she and Ambrose Stoneman first played army, Sheila couldn't help being reminded of that time she watched 9/11 on Carl's telly, and the world changed forever." This will give your novel socio-political weight and make critics use phrases such as "state of the nation" and "epic" when reviewing it.

* Children's heads smell a lot in literary novels, often of butter or milk. Nobody knows why. It's just a fact. Maybe you've smelled some children's heads recently and not really got much of a scent? Remember: that's just reality. It's not important here. Ignore it.

* It's increasingly hard to sell literary novels from Britain to America these days. "It's too British," is a common complaint from American editors. Don't be too deliberate about it, but do keep this in mind as you write. When mentioning days, try to pick ones suited to both the American and British ways of writing dates (e.g. 6/6). If you have created a character with bad teeth, think carefully: Does he or she really need bad teeth? Will it damage the plot to make them whiter and more symmetrical? If the answer is no, make an alteration.

* While writing your literary novel, try not to shave. If you are female, you should also try not to shave, though people probably won't notice, so make up for that with a few artfully placed stains, or by rubbing your hair vigorously against some woven synthetic fibre. When opening the door to the postman, cultivate a distracted air. Put a pen behind your ear, even if you don't use a pen to write. Dressing gowns worn at insurrectionary times of the day can help too. Soon, you will be known at your local sorting depot as 'The Writer' and word will spread to people who don't even work for the Royal Mail. The publicity machine will be rumbling into life before your novel is even finished!
How To Write A Literary Novel: A Few Pointers For Getting Started Reviewed by Tom Cox on 12:53:00 Rating: 5 * Writing a literary novel is incredibly tough, so you should be well-prepared for the fact that life is not going to be normal while you...

20 comments:

Brian Jenner said...

Better than Craig Brown!

Little Miss Daydream said...

You are a very funny man. *deletes line about baby's head smelling clean & sweet from manuscript*

Tom said...

Thanks folks! Very kind of you to say so.

vegemitevix said...

Very funny, but you missed one. I think it's important to get a twitter handle like @writerchic and post inane tweets at insane times of the day, along the lines of - mod writers need rooms of ones own complete with ipod and tv - and then label it with the hashtag #iamwriting so everyone (including agents!) will know you're a proper writer, even if you're actually sitting in front of TV watching The Apprentice.

Furry Canary said...

Splendid stuff. I thought it was serious for a while there. The penny droppped only when I realised it wasn't nearly as pretentious as most of the bollocks out there about writing.

Alex said...

This guide glows like a burning elevator shaft under a gunmetal sky.

Anonymous said...

I thoroughly recommend Tom Cox's "How to Write a Novel: A Few Pointers for Getting Started."

Tim Lott

Holly said...

Great pastiche of the usual 'Anyone Can Be a Writer!!'-type piffle. I'm a bit miffed at the number of people who claim to be writers (especially on Twitter) when all they do is write a somewhat average blog about 'being a mum' or something (yawn). True writers earn that label and often have a rather solitary life for it. As a general rule I think you're right about the 30+ thing for anyone but a literary genius.

Nicholas L. Garvery said...

I thought this was a serious article. So funny! I especially like the last tip, and I'll be sure to follow it!

Steerforth said...

Very funny (and true).

Re: clouds, I've noticed that there's a lot of 'scudding' going on in novels, but I've never heard anyone say "Just looking at those clouds scudding across the bright bue sky."

I suppose you can't really write "It was a bit windy".

KateG said...

Just found this. How I wish I had had this guidance sooner. I wouldn't have got out of my dressing gown at 11.45 this morning.

Kat said...

Brilliant! I'm now wiser about what's been holding the progress of my novel back: particularly the fact that I shaved my legs at the weekend as a nod to the sunshine ~ I now realise that this was an act of Delilah to my word-finding-Samsonesque-leg-hair, d'oh! I'll just have to read more wisdom here whilst I wait for it to grow back!
:-)

Paulette said...

I am patiently waiting for the next cat book. you have two new ones to introduce. no pressure!

Judy Astley said...

Loved this! Off out now to find a baby to sniff..

Penelope said...

I'm thinking there's a future for a writer selling novel titles. Yours is brilliant. It would fit right in with the Timbuktu Gardeners Daughter-type books
Can you next write about the 5 steps to writing a self-help book?
First startIng with a finite number of steps until you become somebody else...
Very funny Tom. Love it. And kove MyLoudDad.

Denikatcase said...

So far, I've done the last one!�� I'm very good at opening the door with a very distracted (though with a touch of importance) air whilst waving a pencil around. A tut or tsk here and there does no harm either. I now tend to get rather admiring looks from my postman these days...I think. I would add glasses are also a must, even if you don't usually need them! ��

Denikatcase said...

So far, I've done the last one!�� I'm very good at opening the door with a very distracted (though with a touch of importance) air whilst waving a pencil around. A tut or tsk here and there does no harm either. I now tend to get rather admiring looks from my postman these days...I think. I would add glasses are also a must, even if you don't usually need them! ��

pjthompson said...

Very sound advice. After reading this I've inserted a child with buttery hair in my novel, although it's supposed to be about life in a penal colony.

pjthompson said...

Very sound advice. After reading this, I've just inserted a child with buttery hair into my novel, although it's about life in a penal colony.

Anonymous said...

I've always wanted to write a novel, but now I know that my vanity will prevent this ever happening. I am simply not prepared to open the door wearing nothing but my dressing gown!