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


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.