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How to Write a Terrible Novel

If you’d like to write a terrible novel, here are my best tips on how to do just that.

In my decade plus of writing novels, I’ve learned what it takes to craft a truly bad book. In this video, I’d like to impart my hard-won wisdom to you. With enough perseverance and skill, you can write something truly abysmal, or ruin a book that otherwise could’ve been good.

1. Create a Perfect Character

First, create a perfect character.

This might seem backward at first. But trust me, making your protagonist a paragon of human perfection will actually go a long way in making your book terrible. Aim to put distance between your readers and the story by ridding your main character of all flaws and layers. And don’t add any distinguishing features or psychological complexity.

Everyone knows a two-dimensional character is easy for the reader to connect to, and more importantly, easy for the writer to write. Keep in mind that you should always seek to cut corners and put in as little effort as possible.

2. Choose the Worst Genre for You

Next, choose the worst genre for you.

When choosing the genre of your book, make sure it’s something you’ll find miserable to write. Readers will appreciate the tangible boredom and frustration on every page.

Select a genre you don’t like, and preferably one you’re completely unfamiliar with. Don’t read any other stories in the genre, don’t research genre conventions, and go out of your way to avoid people who like the genre.

The best way to gain the respect of your readers is to make it abundantly clear that you’re better than them. You would never stoop so low as to appreciate the genre you’re writing in.

Your story should never show any hint of passion or enthusiasm. The best way to ensure this is to pick a genre that’s completely antithetical to who you are and what you enjoy.

3. Nothing But Clichés and Stereotypes

Third: Use nothing but clichés and stereotypes in your story.

Readers crave predictability and unoriginality, and they’re lying to you if they say anything else. Since originality is a myth, you should give up on artistic integrity entirely and steal anything and everything.

Now, this is one area that might require a bit of research, but it can really pay off. Find the most hated and overused clichés, tropes, plot devices, and offensive stereotypes, and include all of them in your story. All of them. If your plot isn’t a carbon copy of one that’s been done to death in tens of thousands of stories, you’re doing something terribly wrong.

Alternatively, you can simply rely on copying and pasting elements of stories you already know. Try not to combine different elements—if you do that, you risk making something new.

When writing your characters, use stereotypes, the more outdated and offensive the better. This will show your readers that you have no respect for their intelligence or sensibilities. As a writer, you’re naturally superior to the rest of your species. This means you can write whatever you want with flagrant disregard for truth, morality, and society.

4. Confuse Your Reader

Fourth: Confuse your reader. The best advice on story structure can be summed up in one word: anarchy.

Throw out everything you’ve ever heard about themes, narrative tension, and character arcs. Your goal is to make your story utterly impenetrable and completely meaningless.

You know what they say: you confuse, you win. Right?

You should make it impossible for your reader to follow what’s going on. Add as many unnecessary subplots and characters as you can. Don’t bring anything together at the end, don’t tie storylines together with thematic cohesion.

Your main character, for instance, should have no goals or desires. You could even try having no central characters at all, and simply tell a series of disconnected, uninteresting events.

One thing to be careful of is that confusion can sometimes be used strategically, to engage the reader and make them ask interesting questions. This must be avoided at all costs. The questions your readers ask themselves should never be answered. Every part of your story should be devoid of meaning and relevance. Dissatisfaction and total confusion are the feelings you should aim to evoke in your readers throughout the story, and particularly at the end.

5. Write Like a Machine

Fifth: Write like a machine. And I don’t mean writing consistently or having a plan and schedule to finish your book—that’s ridiculous. I mean your prose should be as lifeless as a manual on changing smoke detector batteries that also happens to be 500 pages long.

Creativity is your enemy. Again, use clichés as much as possible in your writing. Make every character’s dialogue sound the same. Avoid using metaphors, evocative imagery, and wit. Stay away from symbolism, subtlety, subtext, satire, similes, alliteration, and any other literary devices that could risk making your writing interesting.

Every sentence should be dull. Not one line should be quotable or memorable. Do your best to use as limited a vocabulary as possible, and constantly repeat yourself. Limit your vocabulary. Repeat yourself constantly.

Remember—your readers are incredibly stupid, and they should always be reminded that you think that. Explain everything over and over again, in the least inventive way.

6. Don’t Cut Anything

Sixth: Don’t cut anything.

Every word that comes from your brilliant mind is perfect. Depriving the world of even a single sentence you wrote would be a moral crime. This is why it’s important to never edit yourself, never question yourself, and never listen to criticism from other people.

If you’ve developed a fictional world for your story, your reader needs to know every single detail of it, down to the most irrelevant minutia.

Your book should be as long as it can possibly be. Longer, if possible.

And another thing: don’t bother fixing typos and plot holes. They make your book more authentic, and that’s what readers really want.

My final tip is the most powerful of all.

7. Never Start at All

Seventh: Never start at all.

See, if you never start writing your book at all, there’s no chance it will ever be good. A completed book, however badly written, is always better than a nonexistent book. So to become the ultimate terrible writer that you aspire to be, simply never write. Never start this terrible book of yours, and you’ll never have to worry about it somehow turning out good.

This is the ultimate weapon in a terrible writer’s toolkit, and it’s surprisingly easy to use. All you have to do is give in to the abundance of distractions around you and avoid the blank page like the plague. Because writing is scary. And if you actually start writing, especially writing consistently or in great volume… you might… improve. You might eventually become a good writer. And we can’t have that.

Now that you’ve learned how to write a terrible novel, you might want to know how to write a good one. I honestly can’t imagine why.

But if, for some reason, you’d like some writing advice that’s actually good, I guess you could read one of these posts: How to Avoid Writing Clichés or How to Choose Your Novel's Theme.

If you want to watch the video versions of these blog posts, head over to my YouTube channel here, and subscribe for more videos on writing and publishing.

– Grayson Taylor

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