Monday, May 27, 2024

How To Fail At Writing A Novel: Write Without Passion


WRITE WITHOUT PASSION: a sure way to fail as a novelist


If you want to ensure your novel falls flat and fails to captivate readers, one surefire approach is to write without an ounce of passion. Passion is the secret sauce that transforms a mediocre story into a page-turner, but if your goal is to fail spectacularly, it's best to steer clear of it entirely.


When you sit down to write, convince yourself that "pretty good" is good enough. Embrace mediocrity. Resist the urge to really try to give your characters passion for what they’re doing. After all, who needs to strive for excellence when you can settle for average? For example, instead of crafting a gripping opening line that hooks readers, opt for something bland like, "It was a day like any other." Or, when describing your protagonist, forget vivid details and unique quirks in favor of generic traits like  “she’s nice" or "she’s smart."


As you progress through your story, make a conscious effort to avoid anything that might make your pages come alive. Steer clear of exciting twists, intriguing characters, or profound revelations about relationships or personal growth. 


If a character's backstory threatens to add depth and complexity to your narrative, quickly gloss over it or, better yet, omit it entirely. For instance, if your main character has a dark secret from their past, don't explore how it shapes their actions and motivations. Instead, pretend it never happened and keep your story as one-dimensional as possible.


Most importantly, if you truly want to fail as a writer, do not care about your characters. Treat them as mere puppets, devoid of emotions, desires, or yearning. When you're indifferent to your characters' fates, it will be impossible for readers to form any attachment to them. Why should they invest in a story when even the author doesn't seem to care.

Above all—whatever genre you write in and whether your style is playful or serious—you’ve got to fail to make a connection with your reader if you want to fail. Don’t try. Don’t consider that every page needs to be compelling. Just write without passion and remain apathetic toward your characters. Create forgettable moments. That’s the way to failure.


My last seven novels are part of a series of humorous supernatural horror/urban fantasy novels. The series is titled Strangely Scary Funny and they’re my most popular series by far. These books, by nature,  are lighter than fiction that demands more serious exploration of certain themes. But I still do my best to give my main characters desire for some goal important to the story and events and other characters who get in the way of this desire. I set up important situations, in other words. I make something happen on each page that involves the reader in whatever my characters are struggling with. You do not have to write “deep” “serious” fiction to approach your writing with passion. But, of course, if you do have passion, just be aware that your chances of failure decrease significantly. 

Friday, May 3, 2024

How to Fail at Writing a Novel: Write Characters who don’t have desires

 How to Fail at Writing a Novel: Write Characters who don’t have desires

Characters are the heart of any novel. As important as story and setting and narrative voice and language are, without characters a reader can connect with and care about, your novel is most likely not going to engage the reader. Alas, many aspiring authors fall into the trap of creating flat, uninteresting characters that lack depth and motivation. If you want to fail at writing your novel, create characters without wants or needs.

Great characters are driven by their desires and, at a deeper level, something they need. Take, for example, the iconic character of Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” Elizabeth’s wants and needs are clear from the outset: she wants to marry for love and needs to support her family, to keep them safe from the threat of poverty and loss of social standing. Her desires drive the plot forward and make her a relatable and engaging protagonist. Another example is Katniss Everdeen from “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins: Katniss’s primary need is to protect her family, particularly her younger sister, Prim. She wants to survive the brutal Hunger Games and return home. Need is deeper than want, but both are important. These desires drive her actions throughout the trilogy and make her a compelling, relatable protagonist. A third example is Atticus Finch from “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. Atticus wants to uphold justice and teach his children the importance of empathy and equality. He needs to defend Tom Robinson, an innocent black man, in a racist society, even though it causes him to endanger himself and his family and have much of the town turn against him. 

In contrast, characters who lack wants and needs fall flat on the page. A powerful plot will be weakened by characters who aren’t developed. Readers will struggle to invest in these characters because they have no reason to care about their journeys or outcomes. A lot of bad action movies or thrillers fail in this way. Maybe they have a pretty good plot, but if the audience doesn’t care about the character, they don’t really care about what happens to him or her. 

To fail at writing your novel, create characters who are content with their lives, who have no burning desires or unfulfilled needs. Write characters who are passive observers rather than active participants in their own stories. By doing so, you’ll ensure that your readers will quickly lose interest and set your book aside.

Friday, April 12, 2024



If you’re like me, you fool yourself more than you fool anyone else. You tell yourself, if you realize you’re gaining a few pounds, that the piece of cake you’re having for dessert really isn’t that many calories when you know it’s as loaded as Elon Musk. I’m just saying. Most of us are not completely honest with ourselves. If you’re a writer, you might fool yourself about how many words you write every day.

FIRST SIMPLE TIP: Keep track of how many words you write every day. I write down how many I do each session and total them up at the end of the day. It keeps me honest. If you’re like me, you’ll get competitive with yourself. You’ll write more by trying to make the number higher than the day before.

Set goals for how many words you want to write every day. REALISTIC GOALS. If you don’t make it, don’t be too hard on yourself. Just having a goal will help you get words on paper. That’s the main thing.

Focus. You can write for an hour and give into the wandering mind syndrome that all imaginative people (kind of need this to be a writer) have or the desire to surf the web or any other distraction you can come up with or you can stay focused. Guess which one will get more words on the page? I’m going to guess that you can guess, but I’ll tell you from experience that the difference in word count is probably much larger than you think. If you can focus and get in the flow, you can really get a lot done in an hour. I’ve done 1500-2000 words on occasion by getting to the flow point. Extra tip: write down the amount of time you write, actually write, to be aware of the true time you're spending each day writing.

Follow these three tips and you’ll definitely write faster.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Novelists Don't Have to Outline. Really.

 YOU HAVE TO OUTLINE TO BE A TOP WRITER. THERE IS NO OTHER WAY. ONLY PEOPLE WHO OUTLINE WILL HAVE A CHANCE TO BE A TOP WRITER. I have only one thing to say to this statement, which I have heard several writing gurus make. BULL CRAP. Stephen King (not an out-liner at all) would be surprised to hear he is not a top writer. Quentin Tarantino, ditto. George RR Martin, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, and many, many more don’t outline.

If you try outlining and you can’t do it, do not despair or think you’re a failure and will never be a good writer because you can’t. Some writers do outline and they do it well. Some discover their story as they write it. They learn who their characters are and their characters help them find the story that needs to be told. They do what works for them.

Experiment. Find what works for you.


More personally:

I had a cousin once who had six toes. It didn’t make her clairvoyant. She and I were backstroking across Lake Okoboji when she said, “You’re going to write a book someday and it will be the craziest damn book anyone has ever read.” She died in a swimming accident later that year. That’s how I know she wasn’t clairvoyant.

Wait. If Yvonne wasn’t clairvoyant, how did she know I’d write a crazy damn book? Because even though the most recent novel (out today), The Librarian and the Monster, is the sixth in the series, I think of all these books (including the ones still to be written) as one book. Each of the novels has a story unique to that novel, but there is another story that stretches over all the novels and the series won’t end until that story ends.

What if my cousin was clairvoyant? If she was, that meant she knew she would die in a swimming accident. It also meant she knew her boyfriend, who she was deeply in love with, was cheating on her with her best friend, a friend she’d known since the first grade and also loved. Which meant she didn’t confront them because she wanted to get every minute of that love she could, so she probably knew they were about to come clean and tell her the truth the very day she drown swimming in Lake Okoboji.

Her story, it seems, is a horror—love story.

And that’s how I write. I discover this and I discover that as I write and then I go back and put in the parts I need to make it the best story I can in the next draft.

Find what works for you. 

Below is a link to my novel should you feel inclined to take a look.

Thanks for reading,


Tuesday, March 12, 2024

The Absolute Best Way To Fail At Writing A Novel



Let me begin with the #1MOST MOST EFFECTIVE WAY YOU CAN USE TO FAIL AT WRITING YOUR NOVEL. There are other important ones. This is #1 though. Others will only hamper you from completing your novel unless there are too many of them, in which case they will sink you faster than a tsunami. It’s like fighting pygmies. Sure, you can probably take on one or two, but you get a dozen of the little buggers attacking you and you’re dead meat. So a lot of bad habits will, I have to say, make it difficult for you to be successful.

However, for now, we’ll focus on the number 1 way to fail at writing a novel. What is it? First, a few examples of someone using this method to fail effectively: Say you are a would-be writer. You’re at a party. You have a job, but it’s not something you’re excited about. What you’re excited about is writing. You confess, more than once, that you’ve always wanted to write a novel. But there’s a problem. Things keep getting in the way. You don’t have time. Not enough hours in a day, weeks in a year, that sort of thing. Some people you say this to are sympathetic. Some are understanding. Maybe one or two give you judgey looks, but that’s just one or two.

At first.

You go on to tell the people at this party that the distractions are too numerous. Your fantasy football teams, your Facebook page, your house cleaning, your trips, your new passion for cooking, your old passion for surfing the net, your Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, subscriptions, your friends, your enemies. Who has time to write?

Not you.

Then there is the more sympathetic case. You work 50 hours a week at a taxing job; you have a family, a spouse, kids, parents. You are tired when you get home from work and just want to veg out in front of the TV. There really is no time. You certainly have good reasons not to write. That’s pretty much all that can be said to someone in this position. It’s really not your fault. You have to really want to write to use the tiny amount of free time you have on writing. So that’s what it comes down to. If you really want to write, then you will need to use that tiny amount of free time to write. If you do, you will make progress. It will be slow, but slow still gets you there, eventually. Nothing gets you nowhere.

The number one way to fail at writing a novel is not to write. Sometimes we overlook the obvious. If you want to fail at writing, don’t write. If you want to give yourself a chance, you know what you have to do.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

WRITERS, Knowing When Something Is Wrong Actually Means You're Doing Something Right


Knowing When Something Is Wrong Actually Means You’re Doing Something Right

We all want our writing to be great and we all think at one time or another it is. We’re positive it’s destined for the bestseller list or a literary award and a call from movie people wanting to turn it into a blockbuster film after paying us a small fortune for the opportunity.

Alas, if it’s a first draft and if you’re a new writer, you’re suffering from a common writer affliction, “manuscript hallucination”. Rarely does any writer write something really good on the first draft, let alone someone who is new to writing. The new writer suffering from manuscript hallucination often doesn’t know he or she or they are not seeing clearly. That’s because the new writer can’t tell the difference between good and bad writing.

And this is one of the keys. Good writers still write a lot of crap. But they are good writers because they can see the difference between their good writing and their crap writing and they revise in a way that improves the writing. I’m not just talking about prose here, but also characterization, setting, and plot.

If you are a new writer, just being aware of this common writer pitfall will help you move on to the next stage of your development. Every writer who admits having this hallucination and gives themselves a bit of time and several revisions will improve their writing, regardless of where they start. A lot of writing is a skill, which means it can be learned. Sure, talent and luck play into it, but those are mostly out of our control. Work to discover what you do well and what you do poorly and learn the difference and you will be on your way.

Friday, January 12, 2024

Where Do You Get Your Ideas? If you write it they (words) will come...

 What’s the most frequently asked questions of writers by would-be writers? Ready? Here it is. Where do you get your ideas? I’ve been on a lot of writer panels at book festivals and conferences and when writers are talking craft, it’s the one that comes up again and again.

I get it. You sit down to write and nothing comes to mind and you sit and sit and stare out the window and decide the house needs to be cleaned (which can be a plus in terms of housekeeping but not helpful with writing). You can’t get started. You just don’t seem to have anything to write about. You become discouraged.

You’ll hear smart answers from writers about where they get their ideas—like “I go to the idea store” or “I’m a member of the idea of the month club and they send me an idea each month”. That kind of thing. And the reason for these ridiculous answers is, as I’ve said many times, writers have no idea where their ideas come from.

So let’s just get that out there. WE DO NOT KNOW.

So how can we help you who think you have no ideas? One way is to tell you we are all in the same scary boat. At first it might seem impossible it is going to take us anywhere at all. We are going to sink to the bottom of the sea. We are doomed.

Here is my advice. Put marks on a page. The only way to get it moving is to get it moving. Easy for you to say, you say. Right. Easy to say. Hard to do. You have to allow yourself and expect that some of what you write will be pure crap (that you will make less and less crappy as you revise until it is not crap).

I learn what I’m writing by writing. It’s the only way I know how to do it. I might begin with an idea or a character or simply a line of prose. There are many ways to begin. Just get some words on the page and then try to build on those words. Push forward. Write ten or fifteen pages. Keep writing if it seems you might have something that you can keep pushing forward. If you can’t, maybe set it aside and try writing something else. HOWEVER, be aware this is a first draft and so by nature probably, for most of us, pretty bad with a few shining moments.

If you write it, they will come. MORE WORDS and MORE WORDS… Maybe it will be a character or maybe you’ll have an interaction between characters or some cool setting detail or an interesting story idea. Something will click in those pages. Keep writing and pushing forward using whatever is clicking to keep you going.

You figure out what your story is, who your characters are, what the setting is, as you go along.

And then, when it’s time, you revise, and that’s when it all starts to come together. Most often, when would-be writers want to know about ideas, what they really mean is where does the writer get the STORY that will be told? For most writers, the story has to be built brick by brick, whether the writer does this in outline or rough draft.

The only way I know how to write my story is to write my story. Write it and more words will come.