A fellow writer asked me what it would take to write the next literary novel. I searched through my notes, gathered after wondering for many years in literary wastelands, and came up with these Ten Commandments (caveat emptor: I take no responsibility for the success or failure of your novel):
1) Do away with plot. Plots are superfluous and distract from the language.
2) Create metaphors within metaphors within metaphors…
3) Deliberately obfuscate the flow of the narrative. Forget about beginnings, middles, and ends. Start at the end and go to the beginning. Or better yet, start in the middle and go both ways, testing your reader who wouldn’t know if you are coming or going.
4) Throw in all the literary styles you can think of: dialogue, poetry, screenplay, Q & A, parallel scenes, songs, flashback, flash forward, oh, and bit of straight narrative so that the reader still believes that she is reading a book. Write at least one chapter as one long stream•of•consciousness sentence. Write from about five first•person points of view (of preferably the same scene) and let the reader figure out who is who. Worried this book may be unclassifiable? Who gives a damn? The literary novel makes its own rules. Show them how clever you are.
5) Create characters that are not just larger than life but physically grotesque. Their character flaws and physical defects must yawn larger than the Grand Canyon.
6) Make sure that everyone is sexually repressed but don’t have them express their sexuality—the imagination is better.
7) Invent new words. Go for sound not meaning. And you don’t need a glossary at the end of your book to explain them—if the reader doesn’t get it, too bad! He will put it down to art.
8) Write at least 1000 pages. After the publisher’s cuts, it should not be less than 500 pages. A heavy tome is always authoritative. Also the reader will never finish it, so it will remain a mountain to be conquered, a masterpiece to be returned to time and again, in frustration.
9) Don’t publicize the book. Just make sure it has some scandal attached to it (charges of nihilism, sedition or sexual deviancy would work).
10) Print a limited run of 100 copies, give them away free to people who are looking for a hook or platform to further their own literary careers, then sit back or get on with your regular writing and watch your book become the stuff of legend. Better yet, say it’s out of print and have readers scramble to get their hands on a copy.
In the end, if the reader does not understand your novel, he will put it down to the superior intellect of the writer and your work will be hailed as a classic, only to be read in small doses by scholars.
All the best with your masterpiece!