How To Tell If You’re In a Novel

Quick strategies for figuring out what novel you’re currently trapped in.

  1. Previously in this series.

    Somewhere in the middle is a series of photographs of you. In at least one of them you are smiling broadly, toothily, and unattractively. You don’t look iconic, just human. It will be hard for the reader, especially if she is a young woman, not to relate to you, and this sense of shared humanity will make her uncomfortable and a little edgy.


  2. Previously in this series. You are a man who spends literally hours ranting about how the fairer sex cannot be trusted, yet you have never been faithful to anyone. You are a woman and two possessive alpha males, both armed, are fighting over you. You're surprised when this ends badly.  You employ a large retinue of servants far more worldly-wise than you whose only duties include dusting invisible furniture and giving you unsolicited romantic…

  3. Previously in this series. Old women have prophesied against thee. Thou talk’st to thyself of murder. Often. Thou dost not even attempt to hide this. Thy friend has been horribly mutilated. Thy fool is remarkably faithful. Thou must avenge a death. Thou hast seen a ghost! (But only college-educated men may speak to it.) “Thinkest thou we shall ever meet again?” asks thy love, upon thy parting. (The answer to her question? “Ha ha, no.”)…

  4. 1. Someone you have known and hated for thirty years pays you an unremarkable yet somehow sinister greeting at the only grocery store in town, which you also hate.

    2. You have committed several murders, yet somehow you are also the sanest and most sympathetic person you know.

    3. Every time you see your neighbors, the encounters decrease in friendliness and increase in dark foreboding.

  5. It’s almost 2:30 and you’ve been waiting since noon for your call to go through. You’ve used the time, though.

    As children, you and your siblings were featured on a radio quiz show. According to listeners, you were the most consistently rewarding speaker.

    You’re going to burn your fingers if you don’t put out that cigarette.

  6. Previously in this series.

    Your fate was determined by a nursemaid with an unaccountably grand flair for the dramatic.

    Your ancestors are all somewhat more alive than usual.

    The love of your life is either your childhood sweetheart whom you have never forgotten, or a man you met fifteen seconds ago.

  7. You are poor now. So very poor. You have left London and can now only afford a large house in the countryside, a rambling garden, and three (yes, only three) servants. Understandably, the degradation of this crushing poverty is very difficult for your dear Mother, but she bears it nobly. You have between two and four English siblings with whom you get into jolly and/or dreadful scrapes. They all love eating buns. Like seriously you…

  8. Previously in this series. You are a wizard and practice magic. Even tourists who do not speak your language know how this will end: badly for you [urinating dog] [urinating dog] [urinating dog]. You are a wizard and do not practice magic, which means you’re in no danger at all of going Bursar.[1] No matter what country you find yourself in, someone always offers you a cutthroat deal on very dubious-looking sausages…

  9. Previously in this series. You are plotting a "bed trick" with your waiting gentlewoman. Your boatswain has perished. You have been trying to get to Milford for the past three acts. You will believe basically anything written in a letter. You remain chaste throughout a series of tribulations and are rewarded with a husband whom you have never met. You wed your husband alongside four other women and their beloveds in a modest quintuple wedding. You…

  10. Previously in this series: How To Tell If You Are In A Victor Hugo Novel. You are fifty, a little frail, and the meat of your life is gone. And yet—do you not still feel part of it? Despite your age, despite Oliver’s slights, do you not still feel, even now, that you are a part of the rollicking heart of the city, the flowers in lusty bloom at Charing Cross, the hum…

  11. Previously in this series. Your father, the king, wishes to leave you and each of your siblings an identical but oddly-shaped parcel of land. Your smartass academic grandfather cannot go ten minutes without giving you a life lesson in the form of a riddle. He corrects your childish outbursts didactically, but with kindness. You go by a diminutive of your name, Timmy or Betty or some other WASPy thing that was popular in the…

  12. Previously in this series.

    You are a child who has been kidnapped, abandoned, or killed in a horrifying and traumatic way, but you still retain the inherent goodness and innocence of the human soul, and are a symbol of hope to all those around you. You are a horribly disfigured man with a vendetta against society and, for no easily discernible reason, a pet arctic carnivore with a Meaningful Name. You are a…

  13. Previously: How to tell if you are in a high fantasy novel. Something has gone terribly wrong with the earth's orbit, but modern gender roles are still pretty much intact. Even ray guns cannot destroy man's oldest and strongest enemy - hubris. A beautiful woman who represented all that was good and pure in human civilization is horribly killed, and it is at least 45% your fault. A princess of the warrior caste with gleaming…

  14. The Elders would like a word with you.

    The Ritual is about to begin.

    Something that has not happened in a thousand years is happening.

    You are going to the City. There is only one City. It is only said with a capital C. No one needs to bother saying the name of the City. It is the City.

  15. Previously in this series. 1. You’ve done something in a piazza that renders you unfit for polite company. 2. Either your taste is impeccable and everything you touch becomes a magisterial work of art or your taste is atrocious and everyone who visits your house is horrified into a terse silence. 3. You once had to speak to a Jew and the recollection of it both thrills and disgusts you. 4. Much of your…