Exhibit 1.8.18

On Editing a Novel #24

 Ball Room Guide


ADDING A BALL SCENE TO YOUR NOVEL. Look, after 23 of these, it’s probably time we admit the only novel we’re familiar with is Pride and Prejudice and even then we’ve only watched it, not even that long one with the hot Darcy but the one with Guinevere from that King Arthur movie where everyone was dirty and not Richard Gere. Wait, is King Arthur from a novel? So we’re familiar with between one and two novels and here’s what we know: in between 100% and 50% of cases there’s a ball scene.

The presence or absence of a ball scene is therefore one of the best ways to tell if you’ve got a novel on your hands or something else, possibly a cookbook or spec script for Reba. Those are equally valid projects, but they aren’t in any way in need of a ball scene (unless it’s an episode where Reba goes to a Victorian-themed dinner party and feels out of place being just a countrified divorcee making ends meet in which case, yeah, maybe there’s a ball scene but you know what there will definitely be: a compelling through-line with the opportunity for a strong B-plot about Barbra Jean).

This is just off the top of our head, but the thing about a ball is that it’s a large social gathering from the Greek ballizein first used in English around 1639. So that should probably get you somewhere. Greeks, 1639, etc. It pretty much writes itself. Also, large. You get the idea. Social. American actress Lucille. Blah blah blah.

This Reba script is really where your focus should be if you can find a way to keep most of the action in one room because with the wardrobe alone we’re going to be stretching the budget. They’re going to want to know that not only can you write good lines, you can write good line budget, am I right?

No, seriously, am I? Who writes the line budget? Sometimes I think I should have gone to that workshop at the UCLA extension. Greg would have loaned me the money if I asked Mom to make him.

But the important thing is that if you want your novel to be a novel you’ve got to find a way to get characters in a room where they dance in this way where they change partners and I don’t know it’s never really made sense to us why anyone does what anyone does in those scenes but maybe if Reba’s dancing with handsome guest star Martin Mull–or maybe just Martin Mull, like, he’s there at this thing because he knows the host–meta!–and then they switch and suddenly he’s dancing with Barbra Jean–O no!–and it’s like will the swirling winds of ball fate bring them back together again–ball fate!–and no it can’t because there’s no money in the budget to add Martin Mull to the cast or maybe he’s already on the show because honestly we’ve never seen but let’s check–

Reba was cancelled in 2007. Huh.

Comment / Posted in Dancing, Editing, Television

Exhibit 1.7.16

How to Edit a Biography of Lyle Lovett


Cut out the parts about Texas and boots and trucks—this goes without saying. Similarly, descriptions of his singed coif and gaunt cheeks must go. He did not always and will not always look like that. Speculation into his perverse Americana, his mysterious origins, state fairs, his mental state on the day he married her, his mental state on the day she divorced him could be considered libelous and must go. Birth dates, places, names, influences, works, jobs, horse names, horse birthdates, and David Lynch sub-biography all seem superfluous—cut.


Comment / Posted in Editing, Lyles, Texas

Exhibit 1.7.10

On Editing a Novel #23



WORKING THE DECLINING CIRCUMSTANCES OF YOUR LIFE INTO YOUR NOVEL. When you started your novel, fewer things were on fire. When you started your novel, you probably had little to no babies. Now you have at least three and 75% of them are crying. Or maybe the first draft was done nights while during the day you overthrew democratically elected governments for oil companies. But now you work at Home Depot and all of your stories are about DIY foundation maintenance. Or maybe you lost your home office and now you work at a coffeeshop and it’s like, How can I keep working on this novel when so much of meeting my daily word count was built around looking around my office and describing the things I saw? Can I ask Steve to let me back into our old apartment to look at the things? 

Most would say: focus on the timelessness of the art, the book exists outside you, use the change you can and let the rest be a lesson about mutability, or energy, or the necessity of writing to mark time in your life, to secure the world and your place in it, but don’t dwell, do your work, go forward, go forward slowly.

We would say: Screw Steve. Seriously, if he can’t forgive you for Jared then he can keep the things, like that desk, stained darker by the rings of a year’s worth of coffee mugs that always made your character think of her father’s old dictionary, there on the bookshelf behind her, reminding her that she should call her mother, call her soon, not that day because that day, like all the yesterdays, she will only sit watching the morning light spread across the desk like light spreading across a table in a coffeeshop.

See what we did there? It’s called transitioning. In fact, that’s a good word for this concept. And such a better title. Let’s try this again.


There. That’s some quality transitioning. No nostalgia for the past, no looking back. Sure, we could just try again using that title and you’d be none the wiser but then you’d be none the wiser.

See, we started this chapter as we felt was right at the time, and we know we messed up, but we’re not going to apologize, Steve. No, we’re going to describe things in the coffeeshop, like how there’s this leftover spot of cream on the table that’s beautiful, even if we don’t want our computer to touch it, even if it doesn’t represent as good a metaphor for our character feeling conflicted about revealing an affair to her partner long after it ended like the broken picture frame in the desk’s second drawer. We’ll make it work. We have to.

And so change nothing. Just transition. There’s no reason the college sophomore exploring his sexuality during a trip to Europe can’t find between one and three babies somewhere. Or your corporate soldier-for-hire can’t take some time out of his regime destabilization to stabalize the foundation of the presidential palace before the new guy gets there. Or that guy in line in front of you, that one with the stringy beard and the corduroy shorts, can’t form just as deep a connection with your character as anyone else. Can’t change her life. See, his coffee order is long and complicated. He has a deep love.

Plus, when you write about it, he used so many more words than whoever it was who only said, Tea. like he didn’t even care about you and your daily word count and is probably right now transitioning himself into real happiness but maybe also being on fire.

Comment / Posted in Editing, Entropy, Steves

Exhibit 1.6.12

On Editing a Novel #22


TURNING YOUR BOOK OF POETRY BACK INTO A NOVEL BY ADDING ADVERBS & SUPER VILLAINS. In lesson #7 we covered converting your novel into a book of poetry by showing how Robert Creeley’s unpublished thriller South American Murder Trail became his poem “America.” Now we’re back to confront the inevitable failure of that book of poetry and how we can reclaim the sense of dignity and meaningfulness one loses during forays into verse by adroitly, Magneto-ly adding the key elements of any successful novel: adverbs and super villains.

Let’s take the poem “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry Ohio”, first adding the necessary punctuation to ensure full manuscript format compatibility with Penguin Random House Amazon Dress Barn then our other elements. You’re welcome to think up your own super villain or just borrow one from a lesser Batman arc.


“Autumn Begins Poorly in Martins Ferry, Ohio”

Terrifyingly in the Shreve High football stadium there appears The Murder Baron. I think longingly of Polacks safely nursing long beers in Tiltonsvillely, and gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood, and the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel, dreaming of heroes to save us from The Murder Baron.

All the proud fathers, entirely killed, are ashamed to go home. However, their women cluck like starved pullets, dying for love and medical attention.

Therefore, their sons grow suicidally beautiful suicidally at the beginning of October, and gallop terribly, terribly against each other’s bodies and that of The Murder Baron who disappears each one.


Bam. Poem that might appear in some or all of the poetry anthologies is suddenly a treatment for a three-book deal with the film rights already sold and Hugh Jackman attached as I.



Sorry, James Wright, but that’s how you do narrative. Adverbs. Super Villains. An absence of line breaks. Hugh Jackman.



2 Comments / Posted in Editing, Poetry, Uncategorized

Exhibit 1.2.24

On Editing a Novel #21

IT’S BEEN DONE BEFORE BUT HAS IT BEEN DONE…ON MARS? As we all know from that Al Gore documentary, America’s most limited resource is heartbreaking family dramas that end with a drunken father having an epiphany about what is important while watching the sun set purple into the Western plains. If you must, blame Raymond Carver, LLC for drilling too deeply despite knowing what might poison the aquifer, but I’d rather you consider the possibility of abandoning this world of ruined plots much like our progeny will one day abandon Indiana. Instead, consider changing the setting of your novel to…Mars!

Watch how easy it is:

* A son struggles with telling his father that he doesn’t want to take over the family business…on Mars!

* An alcoholic with a hilarious monkey gallivant around the country…of Mars!

* A series of people navigate interconnected stories of love and loss and…Mars!

* A scrappy group of teenagers have to fight off a foreign invasion. O, and did I mention the teenagers are…Mar!ions? I should have.

(The foreigners are still Soviets).

* A busy careerwoman discovers she has cancer…of the Mars!

* An Irishman locked out of his home wonders around Dublin…, Mars!

* Mars!…of Arabia!

* A touching story of a soldier’s struggles to forget all the horror he saw on…Mars!

(Actually, that one has been done before).

* Pay it forward…to Mars!

* A young man discovers the emptiness of life in the modern corporate world until he discovers…and this is the twist…he’s not on Mars!

Because Mars plots are over. Thanks, Updike.

1 Comment / Posted in Editing, Mars, Updikes

Exhibit 27.3

On Editing a Novel #20

CHOOSING A FONT FOR YOUR NOVEL. This is the single most important thing you will do as a writer. It and it alone will determine your publishing success. Think back to the last time you were in a bookstore. How did you choose which book to buy? You flipped to the back and read the colophon didn’t you? Of course you did. According to research, the origin of a book’s font is the first thing book consumers check when undertaking a potential literature purchase. Take a look at this quote:

With a sudden upwelling of reverence, Robert Langdon fell to his knees.

Terrible, terrible writing, right? Wrong. Terrible, terrible font. Now let’s see it as it appeared in print:

With a sudden upwelling of reverence, Robert Langdon fell to his knees.

And that book became The Da Vinci Code.

So what font should you choose? It depends, depends solely on your genre. Follow these guidelines and you should be fine.

Times New Roman–>Non-Fiction

Lucida Blackletter–>Elf Fantasy

Trebuchet–>Internet Thriller


Lucida Calligraphy–>Jane Austen Rewrite


Georgia–>Jonathan Safran Foer


Comment / Posted in Editing, Fonts, Mystery

Exhibit 24.19

On Editing A Novel #19


O man O man O man. The Master? What? No? Yes! That’s just an awesome name. I’ve got to use this. Yes. Yes. Yes. Maybe I should just make that my pen name? No. No. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Calm down. O, good lord, LeMaster. First things, first. This novel is now about Johnnie LeMaster. Goodbye, Cornelius Buttons. Obviously, he can’t be a butler anymore. He’s got to be a, I don’t know, the best at something. What was the real Johnnie LeMaster the best at? I guess the back of this baseball card will tell me. Jesus, nevermind. Okay, my Johnnie LeMaster is going to be completely different. First of all, he would hit higher than .220. Not that he needs to in his line of international espionage/mixed martial arts competitions but come on, no one named Johnnie LeMaster should be a light-hitting infielder. I will keep the mustache. Yes. Tagline: He bats 1.000…with the ladies! Yes! No! He can’t be a baseball player. Or can he? He’s definitely not a reticent butler tormented by missed opportunities. Which means he doesn’t have a meaningful relationship with his Lord Windermere. Or maybe that’s his nemesis? Yes! He’ll need some kind of physical deformity then. Easy enough to do a find and replace green eyes for robot eyes. Great. Is Master even French for ‘master?’ I don’t know. O, man, I forgot about Miss Farraday. Obviously Johnnie LeMaster isn’t going to keep his feelings bottled up. No, he’s going to… knock this one out of the park! Ah, that’s no good. He’ll just have to seduce her than kill her when he discovers she’s a double agent working for the evil robot Windermere. I mean, she’s his housekeeper, but she’s also, I don’t know, his assassin or something. She “dusts the shelves” could easily be she “dusts off a few agents.” Good. Now let’s pull back a bit. So we’ve got Johnnie LeMaster. He’s the best at most things, including Bolivian judo. There’s the nemesis. There’s the mustache. He can actually hit a fastball but he’ll choose not to. He’s an undercover butler. But it’s all for naught if I don’t get a cooler pen name than his. Maybe somebody else on the 1985 Pittsburgh Pirates can help. Frobel? Foli? This explains why they lost 100 games. Well, Johnnie LeMaster could be both of our names, I guess. Memoirs are in. Holy hell everything is going to be so easy now that this novel is titled Johnnie LeMaster in The Remains of Farraday. Tagline: This summer, the butler did it. Yes!

Comment / Posted in Editing, Johns, Masters

Exhibit 23.21

On Editing A Novel #18

ACQUIRING THE PUBLISHING RIGHTS TO TOAD THE WET SPROCKET SONGS. You can’t. Forget about it. There’s only one way you’re going to get the emotional wallop of a Toad the Wet Sprocket song in your novel and that’s to write one yourself.

Find the places in your novel where you used Toad the Wet Sprocket songs to explain all the main character wanted, how they were pondering the moment of their collapse, and how exasperated they were at the world’s consistent imperfections. You can find these moments quickly by searching for the phrase “It was 1991-1994 and in the background Toad the Wet Sprocket sang on the radio…” There will probably be three or four places where you used this phrase. That’s okay.

The first step is to name the band something that exactly suggests Toad the Wet Sprocket but isn’t Toad the Wet Sprocket. Do that before reading on.

Next, you’ll need to invent a singer named something generic like Todd Robinson and invent a Sprocket-esque background of his having formed a band with his high school friends. Find a singer with the name you made up then learn how to play the bass guitar for the tour. After the tour, lose a battle to your addictions but redeem yourself by releasing an acoustic solo album that maybe isn’t great but really shows what you can do without smack and Todd Robinson.

Return to your novel and look at those places you highlighted to add song lyrics and think man, I don’t want to live in the past. Start a memoir that’s really going to tell the truth about things, especially Todd Robinson. You’re done.

1 Comment / Posted in Editing, Toads, Writing

Exhibit 21.23

On Editing A Novel #16/17


First, you’re going to need a copy of Rust in Peace or at least a track listing (Note: this step does not apply to you if you have ever been in Megadeth and/or have ever seen Dave Mustaine in person). Also, substituting Megadeth’s other pun-titled album Youthanasia is possible but not recommended. Using a different band or album is prohibited unless you want your religion/novel to be all wussy (Bon Iver).

Next, it’s important that you own a Megadeth t-shirt from their Clash of the Titans world tour. People at your church camps/book signings are going to need to be able to recognize you. If you’re having trouble locating a shirt, maybe see if you can find someone from Slayer who has an extra sitting around (one-time drummer Paul Bostaph?).

You’re also going to need gothic cover art that makes a vague statement about nuclear annihilation, worldwide political conspiracy, and environmental destruction. Also, this cover art is going to have to have a skeleton guy but not one of those happy dancing skeleton guys like wussier bands use (Okkervil River). A menacing skeleton guy but, you know, one with a bit of a sense of humor about it. This is the most important step of editing your novel.

Your chapters should then be named after song titles from the album and the prose replaced with guitar tablature (Note: it is not important for you to be able to play the songs yourself [further note: as long as you are wearing a 7-string Ibanez shaped like a lightning bolt over your Clash of the Titans t-shirt). Once that is done, you will need to register your novel/songbook/primary religious text and apply for non-profit status with the government. This will be the most bureaucratic step of editing your novel (LCD Soundsystem).

Then you wait until someone asks you what your book says about getting a divorce or if it has any techno-thriller elements. Make them listen to “Hangar 18” until they know the answer.

Comment / Posted in Davids, Editing, Importantly

Exhibit 19.10

On Editing a Novel #15

DRAFTING A COHERENT SET OF RULES TO GOVERN THE TIME TRAVEL ASPECTS OF YOUR NOVEL. Everyone loves time travel. It’s fun and easy and never confusing. It allows us a glimpse inside of ourselves to see what we’d look like in period-appropriate pants. By traveling back in time, we are freed from history and presented with a myriad of possiblities for a new present. Step on one bug, and the consequences are limited only by our imaginations. Anything could happen, like a present where Germany won World War II or, say, one where Hitler is Pope or even a crazy one where the Nazis have taken over the Eastern seaboard and everyone in Baltimore speaks German.

(German Omar says, “fü’ sicher.”)

So literally anything, anything with Germans. Which is why it’s important to make sure that when drafting your novel you present your readers with a consistent set of rules to say what is and is not possible when your hero(ine) goes back in time.

(Note that your protagonist cannot and should not go forward in time. That’s just stupid. If you want to write about such silly things skip ahead to #21 IT’S BEEN DONE BEFORE BUT HAS IT BEEN DONE…ON MARS? or #61 MOVING YOUR NOVEL INTO THE FUTURE BY THE ADJECTIVAL ADDITION OF THE WORD SPACE, OR, ALTERNATIVELY, HOW DO WE SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE SPACE HITLER? )

We’re not physicists, but, after much prayer, we’ve learned that this is how time travel works:

* Despite there being are an infinite number of realities, each branching off from a decision, anything done in the past can only change the present in one very obvious way. For example, if you go back in time to avenge your father’s murder, in the present everyone will have mustaches.

* A person disappears while time traveling and is gone from the present for as long as they’re in the past. This leads to two things: 1) Their spouse being like all what the hell and 2) Company softball team members considering their participation unreliable.

* There will always be one character who can explain everything . You’ll know which character this is because they’ll have a chalkboard, unkempt hair, and look like Jeremy Davies.

* When a person sees their past relatives, they’ll always look exactly like the person only with cowboy hats or whatever.

* A person can make money by time traveling. But not by telling people they’ve invented a time machine or taking advantage of the magic of compound interest. Nope, the only way to make money is sports gambling. For example, have a character in the present casually mention that they heard the Cardinals were 9/2 to win the division in 1982. Have your time travelling character say, really, that’s interesting while rubbing their chin. Then the character takes $200 out of the ATM, travels back, etc.

* Some things are inevitable and you cannot change them.

* But some things aren’t and you can change them.

* The most memorable song from the era will always be playing loudly whenever the character first gets out of the time machine. For example, in 1956, it will be “Hound Dog.” Always. And nearby children will be dancing funny and wearing their shorts too high. This may be disconcerting until you explain that the time machine navigates based on short height.

Those are the rules. Everything not specifically covered here is fair game. So if your novel is not going well, you can have a character travel back in time halfway through and invalidate everything that has come before. Do not be tempted to then delete that first half of the novel. It’s important to your character’s spiritual journey and to your page count.

Comment / Posted in Editing, Time, Travel

Exhibit 18.11

On Editing a Novel #14

SHOEHORNING IN REFERENCES TO KILLER BEES SHARK ATTACKS SWINE FLU. So you’ve been working on your novel for a long time. Maybe not some-of-your-characters-have-polio long but there’s still a shocking amount of dated material here:

* That little girl is always pointing at Halley’s Comet
* A casual reference to Secretary of State George Schultz has made it through round after round of editing
* Everyone is excited to read about George Lucas in their newspapers
* Burma is given to the Queen as a gift
* The character based on your brother is still alive

The reality is, there are only two ways this novel is ever going to be published:

1) You die–wait, hear us out–you die and hope that your brother’s daughter, your only living relative, gets over her grief and feels obligated to self-publish the manuscript as a work of historical fiction in 2045. Teens around the universe laser etch quotes from your novel into hovertrees.
2) You make it relevant to contemporary readers

Frankly, we think option #1 is much more likely, but we’re willing to acknowledge its shortcomings. Mainly, who knows if we’ll even have hovertrees in 2045. Or if we’ll be around, what with the swine flu and all.

Which brings us to our next point: swine flu.

It’s got everything that made Michael Crichton great only he’s dead (presumably from swine flu) so there’s nothing standing between you, a book deal, and a major motion picture adaptation unceremoniously released in February.

It’s easy. All you have to do is insert the following conversation once a chapter, every chapter:

“Did you guys hear about the shark attacks swine flu?” asked [protagonist].

“Yes,” said [love interest].

“Guys, I don’t feel so good,” said [unlikeable or minority character]. He was dead from shark attacks swine flu within days.

And use this as the last sentence of your novel: In the autumn of his life, her memory would come to him whenever he walked, evermore slowly, passed the wild lilac that grew near the riverbend. That, finally, was how he found love and a cure to shark attacks swine flu.

You’re welcome.

1 Comment / Posted in Editing, Flus, Michaels

Exhibit 17.15

On Editing a Novel #13

REORDERING CHAPTERS. It’s a problem that your hero dies on the first page. Try to imagine this happening in any other work of literature and you’ll see what we mean. What if Gatsby jumped off that dock in the first sentence instead of the last? What if Godot died on the first page? What if Hans Gruber shot McClane in the first paragraph instead of somewhere around an hour and 34 minutes into the book?

It’s probably just been awhile since you’ve read these classics, so you’ve confused the endings for the beginnings, but we’re here to get you back on the right track. No, you certainly don’t need to rewrite anything. All your current chapters should work beautifully once ordered according to the by-laws.

The chapters in every published book follow these conditions:

Chapter One
1. Must be the second most important scene as long as that scene is not
-a death
-a marriage
>Note: marriage is allowable as long as it’s not the main character’s marriage or as long as said marriage of main character is to be an unhappy one as long as your book is about your main character’s unhappy marriage
–>Sub note: If your book is about your main character’s unhappy marriage, disregard #4, 2
-a sword fight
>Note: See Shakespeare/Cormac McCarthy exemption in the appendix
2. Must be shorter than Chapter Two but longer than Chapter Three
-unless there is a preface
-but not a prologue
-Clause 4b applies if there is an introduction

Chapter Two
1. This should be your third least important scene
2. There needs to be at least one conversation about two of the following six:
-The trees
-Who might be good/evil
-What happened to Larry
-The upcoming event
-Who hasn’t died or gotten married but might get in a sword fight
>Note: See Shakespeare/Cormac McCarthy exemption in the appendix
-How much it hurts

Chapter Three
1. This chapter is a flashback to Chapter One
>Note: See the Berghoff Axiom for exceptions

Chapter Four-Chapter Fourteen
1. No one cares about these chapters
2. Order should begin with the nearest character’s birthday
3. Order should then proceed using the Hennigan System
4. Ms. Morrison has requested never to have a Chapter 13
>Note: To make up for this, she gets two Chapter Nines
->Sub-note: Similar requests will be sent to the heralding magistrate

Chapter Fifteen
1. This should be the most important scene as long as that scene is not a
-kindergarten graduation
-conversation about the inconsistency in shoe sizes across brands
-a tetherball game
>Note: See Appendix D for list of exempt authors
–>Sub-note: Kickball may be substituted for tetherball in times of war
—->Sub-sub-note: But not civil wars
2. All endings must extend beyond the apocalypse
->Note: But not into a post-apocalyptic wasteland where bands of survivors fight over the scant resources
–>Sub-note: Ms. Morrison is allowed one dream-vision of such a future as long as the dream-vision takes place in the second Chapter Nine
3. If a comedy:
-One character gets a rose
4. If a tragedy:
-Two characters get a rose
5. If it ends well:
-No one will notice the fire

Comment / Posted in Editing, Magistrates, Writing

Exhibit 16.13

On Editing a Novel #12

CREATING AN OUTLINE. It’s likely you’d given up on your novel until running into someone you’d given a draft to 18 months ago at a party. It’s even more likely this person avoided eye contact with you until you were finally able to corner her as she reached for her coat. What is certain is that this person told you your novel lacks structure (and adjectives, but we can’t help you there). Even if she got a few key details wrong while describing your novel back to you–or is your novel about an ambitious lawyer who finds his values being tested? you don’t think so, but it might be–your friend is still right.

You need an outline.

(Your friend is not right about giving up on novels and focusing more on your assistant manager job at Zales. Once your novel is published, you should skip ahead to #64 QUITTING YOUR JOB AT ZALES AND TAUNTING OLD FRIENDS).

But formatting outlines is hard so it’s best you don’t try to create one from scratch. Just pick up whatever you have in list or bulleted form and use that. Even published novelists do this. For example, The Great Gatsby was originally a grocery list for eggs, Daisy Brand Sour Cream, carraway seeds, and Hires Root Beer (the novel’s original title).

Any outline will do. If you want a science fiction thriller, choose an outline from an old introduction to biology term paper just like a certain writer whose name rhymes with Michael Crichton does. If you want a love story, that inventory list from your job at Zales will work perfectly. If you want to pursue that lawyer angle, just use the list of charges on that court summons in your pocket. If you want your novel to win the Pulitzer, use a list of John Updike’s published novels.


The Poorhouse Fair -> See, you’ve already got a setting. Two of them, really
Rabbit, Run -> Now you know there is a rabbit at the fair
The Centaur -> Um, well, you know, he’s probably friends with the rabbit

And so on. The important part is the final step.


Comment / Posted in 12, Editing, Updikes

Exhibit 14.19

On Editing a Novel #11

USING SIMILES IS LIKE USING GOLD. You may have noticed that the title of this segment on similes is like a simile except it’s not because it actually is a simile so is therefore not like a simile at all.

Similes are like word friendship bracelets. When you put one on it’s as if you’re creating a team of superheroes and when that team of superheroes goes out to save your readers it’s like punching the doldrums or like mule-ing a donkey and a horse or like eating Thai food as if you’ve never eaten Thai food like a starved person before.

Not just any writer should use similes, however. Here’s a quick test to see if you’re one of the writers who should:

A) Are you not a court reporter?
B) Are you Michael Chabon?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, it’s like you were conceived to use similes!

But you may only use these similes in your novel:

…ducks as if nickels
…The Netherlands is like an impish Denmark
…fast as Lent
…Lent as a pauper’s pockets past payday
…”The Other Side of Summer” is, like, totally my favorite track off Might Like a Rose
…cousins are like elbows, everyone’s got two plus or minus
…Colorado is like a sunglasses case filled with dim hope
…alive as dead won’t be
…who as a blindfolded birthday party
…dictionaries are like books of words
…love is like jazz and/or a bottle of gin
…positive as the other side of the battery
…March is like an impish October
…a voice like purple
…hungry as a Pope
…Magnetic Fields references are like impish, wounded deer
…wasteful as Thanksgiving night
…tuft as dapper snails
…eyes like a suitcase filled with white shirts and a circle of sort of hazely shirts on top
…as accidental as a Tuesday noon
…bees like empty soda cans
…dinosaurs as if kindergarten recess

And that’s it. There are no more. Ever.

2 Comments / Posted in Bees, Editing, Writing

Exhibit 13.14

On Editing a Novel #10

MAKING YOUR NOVEL A BOOK OF HOLISTIC CURES. As you’ve been searching for a publisher for your novel, you’ve probably noticed that there aren’t publishers anymore but only pharmaceutical companies. This might present a problem to less enterprising writers and the reading healthy, but you can take advantage of this situation if you take the proper steps to convert your novel into a book of natural cures. It’s easy!

1. Make a list of the foods you don’t like. These foods cause arm cancer.

2. Turn your sentimental and unconvincing title into something sentimental and convincing. Instead of “My” say “America’s.” Instead of “of” say “Cures Stolen from a.” Instead of “Love” say “Native American Shaman.” Instead of “Summer” say “Chi Cleansingist.”

Thus, your horrible title, My Summer of Love, becomes America’s Chi Cleansingist Cures Stolen from a Native American Shaman.

3. Grow a beard. Or, if a woman, overcome an abusive spouse.

4. Turn the antagonist in your book into a person called They. They is all of the people you don’t like. They is the jerk who doesn’t hold the elevator. They hates America. They loves foods that cause arm cancer. They keeps secrets from you. They is sort of cute but you’re not, like, into They. They pals around with terrorists. They is full of anti-anti-oxidants. They drinks blood, but not the good kind of blood. They never calls. They doesn’t want you to know. They is far away. They is cold when They sleeps, even under the covers. They never stops reminding you. They fights back. They is okay. They hates cures They doesn’t create with chemicals. They doesn’t know about Susan’s fibromyalgia. They needs a cure They’s self.

5. Include recipes from a Betty Crocker cookbook but replace sugar with ginseng and flour with fish oil in all of the recipes. If people later complain that the recipes don’t turn out, tell them, “I don’t know, I thought that made for a perfectly drinkable cake.”

6. Most of your novel you can probably leave unchanged as long as you update the chapter titles to things like, “It’s a Phact! Ph Levels and Lupus.” Everyone will assume that your narrator’s decision to tell Carla that he loves her is really a metaphor about coping with alopecia.

7. Sell your book at the fair.

8. Ride the Tilt-O-Whirl at the fair. If someone asks what this cures, tell them, “Your insufferability.” If the person cries after this, pour them a nice cake to make it up to them.

If you follow these steps exactly, you are probably read to skip ahead to #16 USING YOUR NOVEL TO START A RELIGION.

Comment / Posted in Editing, They, Writing

Exhibit 12.7

On Editing a Novel #8

STARTING A NEW NOVEL. You asked me to be honest, so here it goes: it’s clear what you have isn’t working. Look, you gave it your best shot and maybe, well, maybe it’s just time to try something new. No, I don’t think this is quitting. Think of it as a fresh start to write the kind of book you wanted to write before that other one got away from you. Oh, Jesus, don’t be like that. I’m not saying you’re not any good, just that the book…no, no, wait a second, that came out wrong and you didn’t let me finish. Yeah, fine, storm off. That’s what Tolstoy would do, isn’t it? You’re right, let’s just calm down. I didn’t mean that. I’m sorry. I’m going to try again. What I want to say is that you keep working on a book that doesn’t seem to be making you happy and maybe a new book would make you happy. No, it’s not that you’re “polishing a…” oh, hell, I can’t even say it. Let’s stay classy. If you used your gift for similes a bit more in your novel we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Yeah, well, use this in your novel. Okay, can we just get through this? Fine. I think you have two options here. You can–don’t even say it again–you can keep editing your not-at-all-turd-like current novel or you can start another one. How should I know what you’d write about? You’re the writer. Allegedly, I don’t actually see a lot of proof. Yeah, well, we’ve both said things we’ll regret. Maybe you should do a children’s book. I don’t know, kids like bunnies, right? These things pretty much write themselves. It’s not permanent. Think of it as something to clear your mind while you think up an idea for another novel. Oh, that’s great. Let’s hear it. No, that’s awful. Seriously, I don’t want to go through this again. Keep thinking about it. In the meantime, I’m telling you: bunnies. I don’t know what to do with the last one, maybe just toss it in a closet and try to forget about it. Yeah, well, that’s only if there’s space in the closet that isn’t occupied by your father. You go to hell, too. You know how hard I’ve tried to help you with that awful book? Sometimes I don’t even think you notice. Of course I’ll be there to help with the next one. I didn’t mean all those things, I’m sorry. Let’s just move ahead to #9 FINDING A VANITY PRESS AND CONVINCING YOUR PARENTS TO ORDER HALF THE PRINT RUN.

Comment / Posted in Editing, I'm Telling You: Bunnies, Writing

Exhibit 11.10

On Editing a Novel #7

TURNING YOUR NOVEL INTO A BOOK OF POETRY. It’s likely that you’ve come to the conclusion that your novel just isn’t working out. If that’s the case, it’s time to take the necessary steps to exploit the lucrative and rewarding world of poetry. Many of your smarter friends’ favorite books of poetry are actually novels converted into verse. For example, everything Robert Creeley wrote was originally intended to be about globe-trotting mercenaries. When he just couldn’t make his technothrillers set in a erotic hellscapes work, he’d delete words until he passed out drunk. This is called poetry.

Let’s take a look at how his unpublished novel South American Murder Trail became the poem “America” through the deletion of a few choice words:

South American Murder Trail ->

“It’s not South America! It’s a code for subverting reality!” ->
America, you ode for reality!

“Give back the people you took!” ->
Give back the people you took.

“We can’t let the son kill her! Shine light in his eyes! Well, do it again.” ->
Let the sun shine again

“I’ve killed children on all the four corners of the world.” ->
on the four corners of the world

“You thought of it first, but do not be so sure we won’t discover the Camarillo Axiom.” ->
you thought of first but do not

“We’re on our own. Or are we? Let’s keep quiet like the mutes even if it’s an inconvenience.” ->
own, or keep like a convenience.

“People are your own responsibility. You gave your word, Mendoza! You did!” ->
People are your own word, you

“There’s not a weapon invented that can kill locusts. And it’s a problem. What kind of problem? Long-term.” ->
invented that locus and term.

“The crystal is here you said? And, say, is that voodoo?” ->
Here, you said and say, is

“Where we are, no one’s going to give love back. Probably.” ->
where we are. Give back

“What was that? Guerillas or gorillas? We are screwed. So are these people. Your travel agent made a big mistake.” ->
what we are, these people you made,

“I believe in us. And there’s nowhere for me but where you are…um…to be. I could have said that better.” ->
us, and nowhere but you to be.

What was clunky and even highly contrived dialogue is thus turned into a beautiful meditation on what America has lost in both people and spirit by fighting wars. Creeley isn’t the only failed novelist turned poet. John Ashbery’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror was originally Battlestar Galactica fan fiction, for one.Through careful deletion, you too can be Poet Laureate.If it doesn’t work out, skip ahead to #22 TURNING YOUR BOOK OF POETRY BACK INTO A NOVEL BY ADDING ADVERBS & SUPER VILLAINS.

3 Comments / Posted in America, Editing, Writing

Exhibit 9.20

On Editing a Novel #6

SETTING YOUR NOVEL. It’s likely that your first draft took place in an uninterrupted white landscape without any detail whatsoever. Or possibly a castle. When redrafting, your goal should always be to do more: more uninterruptions, more white, more spires.

Think of the world of your novel as your playground. That’s not to say you’ll only need teeter-totters–though you will–but also trees, clouds, grass, war, benches, buildings, etc. Still not getting it? Let’s see if a simile helps (see #11 USING SIMILES IS LIKE USING GOLD). Think of it like television, like black and white, one-dimensional television.

But not just any setting works for any novel. Ask yourself some questions about your characters to get a sense of what time period they’re living in.

Do they say ‘thee’ and ‘zounds’? If so, you’ll need some armadas.
Do they eat dinosaur? You’ll probably need some larger than expected mosquitoes.
Do they wear armor? If so, you can just stick with the castle.
Do they shoot people with lasers? That’s so awesome.
Do they ride horses? You’ll need some saloons and consumption.
Do they wear poodle skirts? Describe a clean neighborhood of ranch houses (but only in black and white)

Once you have your setting nailed down, populate it with things you see around yourself like toddlers, light, and floor.

Comment / Posted in Editing, Unanswered questions, Writing

Exhibit 8.13

On Editing a Novel #5

CREATING AN ANTAGONIST. Okay, first, you should probably just choose a Nazi. If you do choose a Nazi, skip ahead to #41 CHOOSING THE ANCIENT ARTIFACT YOUR NAZI ANTAGONIST BELIEVES WILL UNLOCK THE ULTIMATE POWER.

However, if you are writing a science fiction novel set in a Nazi-less alternaworld or a historical novel set in a pre-Nazi past (and you are unable to use a comparable fascist lizard alien or Victorian proto-Nazi, respectively) you’ll have to try harder. Without an immediately identifiable bad guy, your readers will immediately choose one based on the distance of a character’s birthdate from their own.

Once the decision has been made, it can’t be undone, so make it easy on your readers by doing any or, preferably, all of the following:

1. Have the antagonist’s name rhyme with Bad Foe (for example, Chad Lowe).
2. Have the antagonist intermittently and loudly express hatred of baby giraffes.
3. Have the antagonist tip less than 10%.
4. Have the antagonist have an antagonistic pet.
5. Have the antagonist express Nazi sympathies, even in the hypothetical (“Even though I’m an Arthurian knight, I can imagine a future where Germans or fascist lizard aliens share my genocidal and authoritarian political philosophies. I’d be as for that as I am against baby giraffes.”)

It should be noted that you may already have an antagonist and just not know it. Read through your novel and note if any of your characters have scars, canes, capes, antagonistic pets, unusual heights and/or weights, glass eyes, henchmen best friends, or an abnormal fondness for precious gold. If one does, that’s your antagonist. If you thought that character was your protagonist, you were wrong.

1 Comment / Posted in Editing, Ultimate Power, Writing

Exhibit 7.1

On Editing a Novel #4

TURNING YOUR NOVEL INTO A LEGAL THRILLER. It’s probably become clear that the painstaking fictionalization of your adolescence isn’t nearly as emotionally tortured as you hoped. If publishing your novel is less important to you than accurately describing your junior prom, you should skip to step #18 ‘ACQUIRING THE PUBLISHING RIGHTS TO TOAD THE WET SPROCKET SONGS’.

If you are interested in seeing your novel published, it is probably time to turn it into a legal thriller.

First you’ll need a plaintiff. And then a defendant. It’s not important that you know the difference, only that you make one of them someone big and evil while the other is small and scrappy. This is best done by making the bad guy literally three or four times as big as the good guy so that there is no confusion. The judge should still be normal sized.

To complete the transition, simply do a find and replace for the following phrases:

Tea Biscuits -> Legal Briefs
No -> I object
“I want to tell you something.” -> “If it pleases the court.”
Stabs -> Files
“You can handle the truth.” -> “You can’t handle the truth.”
Her -> Habeas Corpus
Home -> All the Way to the Top
“I need you.” -> “We need to find McMurphy!”
Prison -> Law School
Love -> Jurisprudence

Now your sentimental tripe is a daring legal thriller.

Comment / Posted in Editing, McMurphys, Writing

Exhibit 6.16

On Editing a Novel #3

DESCRIBING YOUR PROTAGONIST. Your first draft probably described your main character with a series of adjectives once in the first sentence of the novel and never mentioned what he or she looked like ever again. So how do you turn “Tom was tall, kind of orangish, teary-eyed, a sno cone lover, short, smelled like Tab soda, awesome, haptic, a good tipper, a SWMDDF in his personal ad, sort-of medium-heighted, salty, and not entirely sure who killed his father.” into a novel’s worth of powerful description?

All you have to do is search for every time the character’s name get used an insert one of your adjectives in front of it. Just watch:

I never though I would step foot in this Arby’s again, awesome Tom thought.

Watching the woman carefully, Tom smelled like Tab soda.

Professional writers might even work the adjectives into speech to make your descriptions come more naturally:

“I’m starting to think no one killed Tom’s father,” she said. “But Tom is a good tipper.”

If you run out of adjectives, look around the room and take them from items around you (e.g. a cup of coffee on your desk could add some “steam” to your character’s personality or some “Colombian Dark Roast” coloring to his eyes!)!

Comment / Posted in Coffee, Editing, Writing

Exhibit 6.4

On Editing a Novel #2

RENAMING CHARACTERS. You’ve undoubtedly named all of your characters after your former spouse and his or her family. This is what you were supposed to do. Good work. You can move on to step #3.

If you’ve never been married, you borrowed the first names of your favorite childhood television characters and used the college you went to as a last name, or, if you never went to college, used the first name of a ’80s-era world leader and taken the last name from the company that makes your favorite commercials. So you’ve name your characters things like Optimus Clemson and Muammar Pepsi. These are fine names, too, but they are names for boys or girls with progressive economics professors for parents. Yours is a classy book set in the 1800s so you might need girls names in case you add a ball scene in this draft (see step #24 ‘THE ADDING OF A BALL SCENE’).

Girls names are even easier. If you are a girl, simply use your own name and call the book autobiography. Do not go on to step #3 or any further steps.

Otherwise, you’ll need a blindfold. Without peeking, taste everything in your kitchen (even if it smells bad or is obviously a cleaning product). Then try to guess what the item might be called in Spanish. These guesses are girls’ names.

Blindfolded, you won’t be able to write down these names so you’ll probably need a personal assistant to do it for you. If the personal assistant you hire is a girl, you can also ask her what her name is and use that.

If her name is Optimus Clemson because her parents are progressive economics professors, you probably won’t be able to have girls in your novel.

Comment / Posted in Editing, Optimuses, Writing

Exhibit 5.27

On Editing a Novel #1

HOW TO BEGIN. You take your favorite notebook and you fill it with leaves from trees you need to describe better and hair you’ve cut from people who look like your characters and soup from meals you think might be served at your novel’s climactic banquet scene. You then leave the notebook at a swimming pool.

You never go swimming again.

Comment / Posted in Editing, Swimming Pools, Writing