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April 15, 2024

How to Write a Literary Novel (Without Really Trying)

By Tedi Trindle

Anyone can be a literary novelist, once they learn the ropes. Why anyone would want to be a literary novelist is a mystery to me, but, since there are probably some aspiring Hemingways out there, I am ready to lend a hand. Following are some handy tips which teach you how to write a book which will undoubtedly end up on the shelves of college bookstores everywhere, and deservedly so.

Before you ever put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), you should consider your image. Not everyone is cut out to be literary, but it's possible to acquire the necessary affectations. First, you should be Southern, which is less of a problem in some regions than others. If you can't be Southern, you should still pretend to be. It's required. It is also preferable that you come from a small town where nothing ever happens and life is as dreary as humanly possible. Tumbleweeds should be bored there.

If you don't drink, start. It is common knowledge that some of the most acclaimed literature of the 20th century was written during a huge bender. Which probably explains why most of it is unintelligible and must be translated by highly-qualified English scholars. Or the town drunk.

You should own lots of tweed jackets with leather elbow patches, and you should move to a boarding house so that you can be surrounded by the dregs of humanity while you write. It's inspirational.

You should be an accomplished fisherperson, go on lots of picnics, and have seen at least one bullfight, preferably in Spain. Lastly, you should develop a whopping case of clinical depression. Happy thoughts don't mix with literary novels.

Once you have acquired the necessary trappings of the literati, you are ready to write. The first step to writing your book is to select and develop characters. The maximum number of characters is three: yourself, the hero, and the heroine. Everyone else is just scenery, which is fortunate for them, since the hero and heroine will be dead by the last page. This is also required.

First comes you. You are a naive young Southern writer, living in a boarding house, trying to write your first novel. You are sweet-natured, talented, and completely innocent of the wretched truths life is about to offer up to you. You narrate the story, fall in love with the hero or heroine, and generally tag along while they suffer.

Next comes the hero. He is sometimes rich, always handsome and charming, but dissipated, given to bouts of drunken depression and irrational fits of anger. For the sake of this lesson, we will assume that you are a man. You will be the hero's friend. He will alternately confide in you and taunt you for your naivete. You will worship him, but wish he didn't treat the heroine so abominably.

The heroine is beautiful, sad, and confused. She is a fragile flower, a woman so delicate that a strong breeze would blow her into the next county. She harbors a dark secret which you long to know. You are in love with her, but you would never profess your love, due to your friendship with the hero. See how sweet-natured you are?

Now we come to theme. Every literary novel has a theme and it is always the same: Life stinks and then you die. We are all destined to suffer anonymously for no purpose whatsoever, and then we spin into oblivion with little to show that we were ever here. Cheery, huh?

Once you have your theme and characters, the rest is gravy. The rest being the plot. The reason it's gravy is because you don't really need one. All you need is a dreary setting, a dismal theme, and miserable characters. With this setup, plot takes care of itself.

Your only chore is to figure out how to kill off the hero and heroine. May I suggest double suicide? If that's a little too dramatic for you, a car accident does nicely. It's better if they go together, but one can go tragically and the other can grieve him or herself to death. Whatever works, as long as they're both dead on the last page.

This leaves only you and the scenery characters, who have all gone about their business by now. You wind up the novel by contemplating the waste of two bright and interesting people who enriched your life. Their memory will serve to throw you into the literary spotlight so that you can move out of the boarding house and into a condo on Park Avenue.

Truthfully, this focus on literature has burned out all my little circuits, so get to work and don't ask me to read the manuscript. I'm going to snuggle down with a good trashy novel (written by someone no one has ever heard of) that has a happy ending. That should cheer me up.
Article © Tedi Trindle. All rights reserved.
Published on 2003-06-23
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