review: write your novel in a month

I read Write Your Novel In a Month: How to Complete a First Draft in 30 Days and What to Do Next mostly for the sake of reviewing it, with the hopes I’d pick up a tip or two for productivity I’ve either forgotten or missed.

I can’t figure out how to get started on my opinions, because I’m about to get real “Political Correctness Police” on it (book’s phrase, not mine). So let’s start with the overall:

Tone. One thing I did enjoy about this book was the you-can-do-it attitude. No sneering or arrogance here, only unbridled enthusiasm for the writer who wants to write a novel in a month. Awesome.

Content. Straightforward information to prepare a writer to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Realistic advice, plus a solid plan to get you there. The craft given in the first half of the book is really just the important stuff to kickstart the story, with some afterwards craft lessons to help tighten and edit once the month is over.

Were it not for my quibbles below, this would be an A+, must-read, highly-recommended book. These quibbles are very minor if you’re, say, a straight white dude. You might think they don’t matter.

And honestly, I had a hard time convincing myself to stay angry long enough to write about them. But here I am, because it needs to be said, because even innocent, ignorant, or jokingly-made comments can hurt, they can still be sexist, racist, and homophobic.

pg  26

…For example, what if you wanted to talk about how one of the Native American leaders wasn’t a very nice guy? Well, the Political Correctness Police would be all over you for that if you wrote that in a historical novel.

Hi, official card-carrying member of the Political Correctness Police here. I think what the author meant to say was, you have to be conscious when writing fiction about real people.

What I’m reading is, “waah those activist groups won’t let me get away with my racist stereotypes. They keep claiming it’s harmful and I don’t like hearing them complain.”

pg 32

Male readers, research has shown, connect best with male protagonists, while women have a much greater ability to connect with a hero of either gender. So keep your target readership in mind when you choose your protagonist.

True facts, I’m sure. The problem is, this is just the start of a conversation about representation. You can’t really toss around studies like this without asking one solid question: why?

It can’t be because men don’t naturally connect with anyone else other than a man. I didn’t think the author meant to infer that men are simply that one-sided and limited in emotional scale and empathy.

Representation is a vicious cycle. Women aren’t represented in fiction and other media, so another generation grows up not writing their stories. Women are forced to identify with heroes of either gender or starve from a drought in female protagonists. They adapt, just like men could if there were enough books about girls and women published during their formative years.

We could have the same conversation about white-washing. Oh, and LGQBTA characters. The answer isn’t ‘well, write white or write male or write straight,’ it’s write well and write the characters you need to see.

pg 34

Who hurts the most in your story? I think that’s a useful question, because the reader is going to closely connect with whoever suffers the most in your book.

No quibble here, this is damn good advice.

pg 54

Physical attributes she might modify as the result of her temperament may include:

Hair style and color
Facial hair (for men only, hopefully)

Oh, look, it’s a trans-phobic joke! How quaint.

pg 78

If the heroine doesn’t tell the young man who she really feels, he’s going to marry that horrible other woman–and our heroine will possibly become a lonely old maid.

The ‘all women in competition’ trope must die. That ‘horrible other woman’ is only horrible because she is competing for the man’s attention.

This story example, the dying a lonely old maid, is continued throughout the next few pages to help solidify the plot, using examples. This one mention on page 78 wasn’t enough to annoy me–it’s when this single example, among three (the other two were male protagonists in story situations that did not require the hero actually be a man), is cited over and over again.

Because, you know, not getting married is the ‘worst possible end for a woman.’

Because, you know, getting married or at least seeking romance is the ‘only story worth telling for a woman.’

Throughout the book, the author refers to the reader as both female and male. That’s great.

What’s not so great is when those pronouns flip-flop. When he mentions wooing a reader with a great story, captivating her, keeping her turning pages, she is a she.

When the reader throws the book at the wall in frustration, when he puts it down, when he walks away, he’s a he.

In other words, women are submissive and easily seduced. Men are in control of their choices and capable of mental autonomy.

pg 117

I once edited a novel in which the main story was about an ancient Babylonian priestess and her many court intrigues. Yawn, right?

Marion Zimmer Bradley and Jaqueline Carey would like a word with you. Or maybe they wouldn’t. They were/are too busy with their novels on the NYT bestseller list to deal with men who think stories about women are boring.

end quibbles.

It’s  a shame these few yet hurtful comments made it into this book, because otherwise I’d love to heartily recommend it. Like I said, if you’re a straight white dude, you may not see the big deal.

But I know my writer’s group. I know these comments, while ‘small’ in the scope of a 300-page book, can sting. It’s a lesson in author trust–he had me 100% excited about this book until page 26. By page 54, I wanted to never pick it up again.

Problem is, most books have problems like these. I can no longer accept it as inevitable, even if the author just thought he was being funny, coy, or universal. Even if the hurt wasn’t intentional.

*tucks Political Correctness Card back into wallet* Happy (and safe) Reading!





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