The Deafening Hug – in “How Not to Write a Novel”

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I’ve been blogging since early 2009. I’m embarrassed to say that’s almost eight years of far too many random thoughts. Of all the posts, the following writing advice drew hundreds of visitors.

In How Not to Write a Novel we learn many lessons, hilariously and delightfully delivered. One that stood out to me is known as The Deafening Hug. Authors Howard Mittlemark and Sandra Newman point out how we need to be careful of creating an unintended love interest. Sometimes it’s obvious; sometimes it’s not. Especially to the writer.

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1. The Mayfly Fatale

A new character is described as a “handsome, muscular man with raven hair and a cheeky grin” or “a lissome blonde bombshell in a tight tank top.” The reader immediately thinks this is a love/sex interest. While real life is full of attractive people who–let’s face it–never look at you twice, protagonists live in a charmed world where it is assumed that all the attractive people they notice are already halfway to the boudoir.

2. Alice in Lapland

Any undue interest in or physical contact with children will set off alarms. If you do not want your reader to think he is reading about a pedophile, dandling of children on knees should be kept to a minimum by fathers, and even more so by uncles. If your character is in any way associated with organized religion, whether he is a bishop, a minister or the kindly old church caretaker with a twinkle in his eye, he should not even pull a child from a burning building.

3. We’re Going to Need a Bigger Closet

Male friends hug, toast their friendship, and later stumble drunkenly to sleep in the cabin’s one bed. The reader is way ahead of you–they are secretly gay, and nothing you say later is going to change his mind. If you do not intend them to be secretly gay, let Alan sleep on the couch.

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Hilarious right? And how true they are! Sometimes when you’re trying to describe particular activities or scenes in too much detail, it can take your readers on a different path than you intended. But now you’ve got the insight and can prevent your characters from doing some highly inappropriate and unintended activities.

Happy reading and writing! Remember to return next Thursday for another insightful post, or have it delivered straight to your inbox by signing up as a follower.

9 thoughts on “The Deafening Hug – in “How Not to Write a Novel”

  1. Loni Townsend says:

    Ha, yes, great rules. ^_^ Though it’s very clear one of my male characters is certainly not gay through his POV, one of the female characters thinks he is because he won’t leave his friend’s side (who is a gay male), and is in love with a woman he never talks about (because he’s afraid of endangering her) and therefore expresses no interest in any other women. He’s also dense when it comes to most relationship things, so he has no clue the woman thinks he is gay. I am perhaps entertaining myself a bit too much with that scenario, but I do love it. 🙂

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  2. Meradeth Houston says:

    Okay I needed to read this today! Totally made me laugh, and think about so many novels I’ve read where I’ve been thrown off by funny little pseudo-romantic details. Great tips!! And love the new blog look 🙂

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  3. Sheena-kay Graham says:

    Sorry but if you think a dad hugging his child a lot is a potential pedophile then you need an update. From what I have learnt about real life pedophiles are usually careful NOT to get caught. Like those coaches who use ‘exercise techniques’ to lure innocent boys into rape and sexual abuse/assault. So sad guys have to be treated as macho and pseudo caring to satisfy some readers. Sorry but you’re just going to have to figure my guys out because he’s not hanging out with seven ladies to seem more straight and hold his kid’s at arm’s length. Just my take.

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    • Anna Soliveres says:

      Thanks for your thoughts. I didn’t get the sense that the recommendation was to have super macho characters/men in order to emphasize that they aren’t gay/pedophiles. I think it’s a humorous approach in how the author gave examples to how subtle nuances in story-telling can convey perhaps even subconscious messages of the unintended variety, some of which she outlined here.

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  4. S.E. Dee says:

    Oooooh I don’t like 2 at all. Makes me sad… : (
    Me and my bro were raised by my dad and I’m always a little offended when people talk about men coming across as paedophilic just because they are showing affection. It’s partially how men are made to feel as though they should be less emotionally and physically involved with their kids. I think perhaps if number 2 didn’t have such a strong relation with how men and children are seen today, it would be more humorous… But I don’t find it funny.

    I totally agree with 1 though! As for 3? Ambiguity FTW! LOL

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