(Before I start, I *will* be doing my guest posts for Liberal England and Thagomizer soon, and will be posting a review of the Beach Boys gig, probably tomorrow, but I’ve had writer’s block for a few days after finishing writing my last book while ill. But I needed to get this off my chest).
I own a book – a rather good one – called How Not To Write A Novel. It takes you through the most common, and most awful, mistakes made by budding authors, and if you read it and manage not to make any of the mistakes it talks about, you might not end up with a *great* novel, but you can be sure to have something at least not obviously, blatantly, godawfully incompetent.
However, I have now discovered a way to produce a masterpiece. Just read Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis, do the exact opposite of what she does, and you will have the greatest work in the history of English literature.
I talked a little about Blackout before, the first half of this two-part so-called novel. To recap – it had nothing at all in the way of plot, had appalling errors of dialect where all the supposed English people had American speech patterns, and it just *stopped* with a ‘read part two to get the end’ – no sort of resolution or conclusion at all. It was a bad book and it made me angry.
However, the Hugo awards people added part two – All Clear – to the downloadable Hugo Packet a couple of weeks ago, and I am trying to get through everything nominated (though I doubt I’ll be able to – I’ve been extraordinarily busy the last couple of months). So I thought I’d at least give it a go.
I am two hundred pages into this 600+ page excuse for a book (or 700 pages into the 1100 page total) and will not be reading any more.
Here is a list of things you can do if you want to write just like the multi-Hugo-Award-winning author Connie Willis:
Write a 600 page book with no conclusion at all, and tell your paying customers to buy another book if they want the conclusion to the story.
Have at least the first 200 pages of that other book continue the pattern of having absolutely nothing happen.
Make a *MASSIVE HUGE DEAL* about your detailed research, filling the book full of details, but then do things like have a character go to visit a barmaid who lives in Manchester, in the Midlands. He goes to her flat on King Street, but she’s moved and so he has to go all the way across town to Whitworth Street. [Manchester is not in the Midlands. King Street is not a residential area, and if it were it would be far too expensive for a barmaid, being at the time the book is sent the centre of Manchester’s banking industry and now the most expensive shopping street in the North of England. Whitworth Street is less than five minutes’ walk away from King Street, and at the time had no residential properties.] Willis has clearly just looked at the Wikipedia ‘list of Manchester streets’ without realising that that list only covers a circle around the city centre with only about a quarter-mile radius. And these details were not necessary to the plot – the character could have turned up, been told she lived ‘the other side of town’ and gone there, without mentioning the streets. Or, indeed, the character could just have gone to the right house with no damage to the story whatsoever. Instead, Willis chooses to show off her research, and gets it laughably, ludicrously wrong.
Assume that all English-speaking people speak in American Standard, and then make sure you have all your British characters repeat phrases like “go look”, “go see”, “go do” and so on. This will ensure that any British reader will want to go *and* return your book to the shop at the earliest opportunity. If you make a special effort, you can put one of these “go verb” sentences in straight after making a gigantic deal of how Englishily English your characters are. If you do this enough you should be able to induce a nervous tic in your reader.
Repeatedly have it look like people have uncovered your characters’ secrets, by having chapters end with people saying things like “Wait a minute, I know what you’re doing…”, then cut to chapter about a different character, then cut back to the original characters, to reveal that there is a perfectly innocuous explanation and they don’t really know anything. Phew! Crisis averted! This trick works especially well the twenty-third or twenty-fourth time it happens in your book.
Have a British character think things like
“Which had been a dreadful idea ever since the days of the American Pilgrims, when John Alden had attempted to persuade Priscilla Mullins to go out with Miles Standish, and Priscilla had said, “Speak for yourself, John.” The last thing she needed was for Stephen to say, “Speak for your-self, Isolde.”
She wondered if John Alden had been a time traveler, who’d then had no idea how to get out of the muck-up he was in.”
– because of course when a British person is thinking to herself, she will immediately think of the kind of cultural reference that every American schoolkid knows but which no British person has a clue about. (This is not me saying this is a bad book because she’s American, by the way. If a British writer were to have an American think about King Charles II in the oak tree, or Alfred burning the cakes or something, I’d have a similar contempt for it. It’s not “ha ha Americans don’t understand British people” but “ha ha bad writer doesn’t bother to think through her characters’ thoughts).
Have all your characters, all the time, talk incessantly about how great Agatha Sodding Christie is, for some reason.
While, obviously, your major characters should all speak like proper Americans, you must ensure that any minor character who is meant to be working class should speak in Dick Van Dyke Cockernee that occasionally slips into something like phonetic Mummerset – “Gor blimey guvnor that’s a rum do and no mistake, bain’t it?” might do for a typical line of dialogue [NB not actual dialogue, I can’t bear to look through the book for an actual example].
Place your major characters, all of whom are friends and care about each other, in a life-threatening situation in which they all need to share all relevant information and work together. Then have them all hide information from each other so as not to worry them. Doing this can easily add five hundred pages of misunderstandings and complication to your book.
Have the entire plot of your book depend on the idea that a historian, at Oxford University, whose specialist period is the Second World War, is completely unfamiliar with the names ‘Bletchley Park’ and ‘Alan Turing’.
This is someone who has apparently had a successful writing career for as long as I’ve been alive. On the evidence of this utter, appalling, piece of shit, this travesty, this disgrace that makes Dan Brown look like a more elegant and refined version of F. Scott Fitzgerald, I can only assume that she has incriminating photos of the head of publishing at Spectra, her publishers, and of the people who choose the Hugo shortlists. In which case, I can only say to let her release the photos – they could hardly do more damage to your reputations than these books do.