What does a novelist actually do?

Like magicians, novelists are never supposed to reveal their true secrets. Instead, they dispense lame generalities like “show, don’t tell” and “don’t write in passive voice.” The good stuff is better than that!

Today’s Example

Did you read this news story?

MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) – European group Eurocopter showed off a revolutionary winged helicopter on Monday, in a bid to counter U.S. rival Sikorsky’s efforts to break the speed barrier by rewriting rotorcraft design rules.

A journalist wrote this lead paragraph, possibly after looking at a Eurocopter press release, talking to company spokespersons, calling rival manufacturers and expert sources for other opinions, and then distilling all that information through the reporter’s WHO WHAT WHEN WHY WHERE lens.

A novelist asks WHAT IF?

What if the design for X3 hybrid helicraft came from the devil. Hmm, let’s go with that. Why? Maybe he wants to fly people to hell faster than ever before. Maybe he wants to fly good people to bad places where they will do bad things and end up going to hell. Maybe he’s trying to straighten up and fly right.


What if Sikorsky formed a secret subsidiary called Eurocopter and “accidentally” leaked some pictures and information about the X3? Okay, where might that lead? As the manufacturers of mass market name-brand products learned long ago, you can make more money by competing with yourself through the launching of additional products. Maybe the design for the X3 was transmitted telepathically to Eurocopter designers from an advanced civilization in a galaxy far far away because, frankly, after they infiltrated Sikorsky years ago, they were getting bored again.


What if the whole thing is an illusion? Let’s say a bunch of guys started slamming down shooters one night and then simultaneously dreamt about the craziest looking helicopter the world has ever seen. When they woke up, they had hangovers, of course. Meanwhile, a trickster god convinced them they never had any shooters, never got drunk and invented the X3. Once the press got a hold of the story, the thing was out of control.

That is what a novelist actually does. S/he brainstorms the improbable and/or the unlikely and then convinces readers it happened or might have happened or could happen.

You might also like: “Lust in All the Best Places” by Jock Stewart from the Morning Satirical News.

4 thoughts on “What does a novelist actually do?

    • There is that old quote–can’t remember who said it–that goes something like this: when a reporter thinks he has a novel in him, that’s the best place for it.

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