How to Write a Novel by Melanie Sumner

Writing Tips

Writing Tips from a Twelve Point Five-Year-Old Author

Writing Tips

Introducing My Editor Again

In my last post, you learned that when you are looking for editors, to help pick the right one, read the books they edited. Here is what author, Melanie Sumner said about the manuscript content editor I chose.”

“When Andrea took possession of the manuscript, I discovered an editor whose ebullient enthusiasm was matched with the relentless determination of a pro. We edited line by line in a correspondence so demanding and delightful that I saved it all. p. 289.”

Andrea said wonderful things about Melanie’s book as well, resulting in my purchase.

Hilarious Plot

I expected a different format for How to Write a Novel.

You know how most authors give tips about writing, then give several random samples. Melanie Sumner turns the table and fits the tips into the thirty-day novel. These tips filter through the brain of the twelve-point-five-year-old author, Aristotle Thibodeau, Aris for short. Aris gets extra help from Mrs. Chu, her librarian.

Her mother, Diane, an English professor at the nearby university, is the unfortunate primary target of Aristotle’s plot, which is to find Diane, not Aris, a husband. “Since I’ve already picked my husband out, I don’t have to bother with dating, but Diane hops on and off p. 29.”

Unfortunately, Aris met with some romantic difficulties also. “… I will now have to share with you, dear reader, the sad news that my fiancé, Billy Starr III, moved to Boston last summer after his mother, a professor at KCC, was fired for staging a pro-abortion demonstration. p. 19.” You can imagine how that long-distance romance turned out.

Poor Diane, can’t do much right. She hired a nanny to help with Aris and her rambunctious eight-year-old, Max, who can’t stay out of trouble. Aris calls herself the co-parent, but they all rely on Penn, the nanny.

All Great Literature Starts with a Flood

“Water was overflowing the bathroom sink and had started running into the hall. Max was in the middle of it all, ankle-deep, buck naked, a blow-dryer in his hand. “Turn it off!” I yelled. “Max! Turn it off right now!” “I can’t! The handle came off!” “No, the dryer! You’re going to be electrocuted, you idiot!” “Help!” he cried, clenching the dryer with both fists. “Somebody! Please! Help me! p. 26-27.” …

Max shot me a death glare, then covered his genitals with his hands and said quietly, “Mom, this may not be the right time to tell you this.” “Tell me.” “I can’t. You’ll get mad. It will be too much on your plate.” “Max, tell me why the bathroom is flooding!” “It’s not that,” he said as the puddle grew around our feet. “It’s something else.” He took a deep breath. “Aris dropped the F-bomb. p. 28.”

Penn, of course, helps, but in an offhand, subtle sort of way. He gets the job done where everyone else bungled for pages.

“When Diane told Max to bring her a screwdriver, and he showed up with a wrench, I realized that we’d have to call Penn. p. 28.”

Subplots Abound

Penn was the only father Max ever knew and is the romantic target Aris picked out for Diane. Unfortunately, Penn has problems committing, so Aris had thirty days of work to do to get them together by the end of her novel.

Here is a list of several of the subplots (I think)

  • The book-writing exercise,
  • Aristotle’s long-distance relationship with fiancé, Billy Starr III,
  • Aristotle’s relationship with Anders who asked Billy for her when he left,
  • Aristotle’s ghost father and their eight-year recovery from his death,
  • The grandparents in all their weirdness,
  • Middle school drama.

I wasn’t sure how to classify this novel. I think it’s okay for youth and most appropriate for adults, but you tell me.


I identified with how Aris thought through all the advice she read about writing a novel.

“PROLOGUE I’m skipping the prologue because I don’t know anyone who reads prologues except my mother. Hi, Merm! p. 4”

“There must be something disturbing in your story,” she (Mrs. Chu) said. “Some parts should be painful to write. Sometimes you’ll feel like you are bleeding the words onto the page.” “Right,” I said, but I was worried. The author of Write a Novel in Thirty Days! had not mentioned blood. p. 18.”

“Write a Novel in Thirty Days! says that your book must have a conflict. Something has to happen that changes the world the characters inhabit. Since nothing happens in Kanuga, I was afraid this might be a problem, but when I thought about all the library books Ms. Chu has loaned me, and all the yarns I hear at church, I realized that great literature often begins with a flood. p. 23.” (Excerpts of the flood are in the paragraphs above.)

Of course, Melanie/Aris included more tips than this, but you need an incentive to read the book, right?


I struggle writing descriptions, so I highlighted tons of Melanie’s. You will have to read the book to find them. However, this one tops my list.

“Question #1, Where does this scene take place? I was stumped. Everything takes place in my head. I have no idea what my head looks like. p. 17.”

Duh! That’s my problem! I live in my head, which has a lot more flexibility with setting than reality. (unless you run into a rock sticking out of the street while you’re thinking or reading Facebook to get closer to reality). Aris, Diane and I would make awful police officers. Investigators never look impressive when their faces are scratched from forehead to chin, not gashed.

Five Star Rating

About the Author

How to Write a Novel

“Melanie Sumner, a recipient of the Whiting Writers’ Award and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, is the author of The Ghost of Milagro Creek, The School of Beauty and Charm, and Polite Society. Her fiction has been published in The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, and Seventeen. Previous awards include the New Mexico Book Award, the Maria Thomas Fiction Award for Peace Corps volunteers, and the regional pick for Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists. Sumner graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earned her MFA from Boston University. Currently, she lives in Georgia and teaches at Kennesaw State University. p. 291.”

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3 responses to “How to Write a Novel by Melanie Sumner”

  1. anirudh Avatar

    thanks a lot for this amazing guide.. i am planning to write a NOVELA .. hope this will help me


  2. Norah Colvin Avatar

    Wow, Marsha. I think there’s a lot packed into that book. It took me a few reads to figure (or try to) it out. It’s made me a little curious to read it.


    1. Marsha Ingrao Avatar

      Its a great book.


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