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How to Write the Great American Novel

How to Write the Great American Novel

By Brandon Specktor

Wikimedia

The most important rule in writing is, “write something that you’d want to read.”

The second most important rule of writing is, “throw your phone into an erupting volcano and WRITE.”

Every great writer from James Joyce to E.L. James followed these simple storytelling commandments before they earned their success. But sometimes, just writing devotedly from your heart is not good enough (that’s why E.L. James also writes from her loins.) In other words: A writer needs a code.

“HEY! Codes don’t just write themselves!” we imagine you screaming now at the nearest passerby/sympathetic tree in the vicinity. And you’re totally right. That’s why we in the Sparklife Words Making Gooder Lab have devised a complex computer algorithm or “code” to digest every great piece of literature since Beowulf barfed fully-formed out of a viking’s beard, and reduced their nebulous arts to the 20-something tips, tricks, and tropes listed below. We’re not saying your failure to read, memorize, print, and share this list of airtight writing rules will prevent you from EVER becoming a successful author. But actually, that’s exactly what we’re saying.  So, let’s get to work.

Getting Started

  • Before you begin writing, you must earnestly ask yourself: "Does this idea really need to be a novel, or could it be something else, like a sandwich?" If you are convinced that the novel is the ideal and only medium for your creative spark, then you may put away the mayonnaise and continue.
  • Rid yourself of distractions. Turn off your phone or tablet device, listen strictly to instrumental music, and tie up your family/pets with copper wire in the basement. Unplugging from social media can be especially difficult. But aged writers have taught us that the easiest way to overcome one desire is by replacing it with another; this is why, instead of tweeting about his day, Franz Kafka would write while making nude snow angels in front of Prague’s finest bakery. Try this at home.
  • Got a dictionary? Good. Throw it away. A dictionary is an antiquated instrument of creative oppression, and good writing has no limitations!
  • Oh, but don’t write from an animal’s perspective. That’s just dumb.

Hooking the Reader

  • Once you have achieved the proper mental state, it is time to put some words on paper. A good word to start with is “suddenly,” because that way whatever the next word is, it’s going to be pretty exciting. For example: “Suddenly, a plot device came CRASHING thought the roof of Magic Jail. This was going to be a very exciting Hanukkah, indeed.”
  • Introduce a conflict and a minimum of two characters on page one. If you are writing fantasy, introduce an additional 75 characters on page two.
  • Employ a unique voice. Give your narrator a fun little quirk like, for example, every ten pages or so the book catches on fire. What a cut-up!
  • If you are writing an erotic thriller, don’t.

Writing Awesome Sentences

  • The first rule of Write Club is show, don’t tell about Write Club.
  • A balanced scene comes from balanced sentences. Strive for symmetry in your prose; If you start a sentence with a capital letter, you should also end it with onE.
  • End every chapter with a cliffhan—
  • —dsoap. (And always start the next chapter with a surprise.)
  • The truth is, nobody really understands semicolons; use them however you want;;.;
  • To write more exciting paragraphs, always end with the most powerful word chainsaw.

Writing an Awesome Plot

  • If a character is chewing gum in the first act, the same gum must be used to murder someone in the third act.
  • The key to a good antagonist is moral ambiguity. The antagonist must believe that his/her own actions are correct, no matter how selfish and sinister they are. Convey this with subtlety by giving them an eye patch, or devil beard.
  • Every butler is a murderer, but not every murderer is a butler.
  • You can’t kill off two of the kindest, most beloved characters in the middle of the book when nobody’s expecting it. Okay, George? YOU CAN’T DO THAT.
  • When writing romance scenes, triple-check that you didn't accidentally refer to the protagonist by your own name, or to the love interest by Joe Biden's.
  • You will sound very clever if the last line of your book is the same as the first line.

Finally, never forget:

  • The most important rule in writing is, “write something that you’d want to read.”

Get it? Am I SO clever???
What are your rules for writing?
Are you the next E.L. James Joyce?

Topics: Books, Life
Tags: famous writers, how to write, how tos, famous authors, best advice, be famous, the canon

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About the Author
Brandon Specktor

Brandon is a writer and humor editor at Reader's Digest magazine. He was born in Tucson, Arizona, and wants to write a paranormal Western that begins, "First the cows turned up dead." What should the rest be about? Tell him on twitter @beardspeck.

Wanna contact a writer or editor? Email contribute@sparknotes.com.

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