How to Write a Novel in Three Sentences

I’m still reading Blood Trail, and should finish today or tomorrow.

On another matter, I saw David Mamet’s new play, Romance, at the Goodman Theatre on Thursday night-and loved it. Though it occurs to me that, because Mamet has carved out such a unique territory for himself, if a young playwright just starting out took such aggressive jabs at the canon of correctness (something you’ll learn about me, if it hasn’t already become apparent, is that I have a weakness for alliteration) he or she would probably be crucified (see?).

Maybe it’s the Jack Nicholson Syndrome. If Nicholson were to be caught on tape eating club sandwiches off the naked bodies of 17-year-old girls, there would be a lot of people who would just laugh, roll their eyes, and say, “That’s Jack!” But Heath Ledger would be dragged in shackles through the entertainment media.

Which begs the question: is there any hope for the young person today who wishes to become an unreconstructed-and celebrated-old fart?

Anyway, in the Chicago Tribune, on Wednesday, Chris Jones wrote an account of Richard Christiansen’s onstage interview of Mamet on Monday night. And Mamet said something about writing that first-time novelists should commit to memory. In fact, there are a lot of veteran novelists who should take note, too.

He was talking about playwriting, but this applies to any form of fiction. Writers should know, he said: “Who wants what from whom? What happens if they don’t get it? Why now?”

There are a lot of how-to books for writers that don’t cover as much ground in 300 pages as Mamet does in three sentences.

(Another delightful quote from Jones’s story: “New York writers were always writing about, ‘What does life mean?,'” he said, offering a brief American literary history with a generous Second City slant, “Who the hell cares?”)

Anyway, I’ve closed the door on my family so I’d better try to get some reading done.

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About the Author:

Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix (2011). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

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