Penny Dreadful: Writing on a Budget

November 24, 2015 | 1 book mentioned 2 min read

I like an intricately plotted story, full-fledged characters, and crisp dialog as much as the next novelist, but those things don’t come cheap. They take time, and time is money. So when it came time to begin work on a new novel, I headed for a retailer that could help me break into the NYT bestseller list without breaking the bank.

The Frugal Scribe

I made a beeline for the “Plot” aisle, where I bumped into the owner, Ned. I told him I needed some simple props to keep things moving, just a gun and a briefcase. “Well, we are a discount store,” he told me, “but we can come close.”

Airgun and Box

Especially pleased with my cardboard box, which was an affordable and recyclable plot device, I headed over to the “Cardboard Cutout Characters” aisle to pick up my old standby, the tortured detective.

Detective (Out of Stock)

Ah, the irony — an out-of-stock stock character! I would have to use that in a novel someday. A new strategy was called for. I happen to write women very well, better than most women do, truth be told, and The Frugal Scribe had every variety I could want.

Male Fantasies (Brunette w Glasses)

After much deliberation, I managed to select a few of the most well-rounded characters. But what would they say to each other? Ned directed me to the “Wooden Dialog” section to pick up some budget lines.

Slogan Signs

I couldn’t afford mahogany — the stuff James Patterson buys — but I found some reasonably priced pine that was far superior to the particle board I used in my first novel. Now I needed to infuse the project with some emotion, preferably unearned.

Tragedy 2.0

What to do with the savings from this great deal? Critics called my last book a “minor effort,” so I asked Ned if there was some way, short of investing more time and energy in the writing, to show how much I labor over every sentence. “It’s your lucky day,” he said leading me to the “Stationary” aisle.


Next stop was the “Title” aisle, where I was disappointed in the offerings on displa; Anna Karenina II or Title TK weren’t going to cut it. I explained to Ned that I wanted something freshly derivative — The Da Vinci Code for Millennials. “I don’t show this to all my customers,” he replied, “but I think I’ve got just the thing…”

The Galileo Sudoku (White title)

Eureka! For the low cost of $22.30, The Frugal Scribe provided me with all the materials for a critical and commercial success. I certainly won’t forget them when The Galileo Sudoku takes the literary world by storm and I finally have the money to get that MFA.

Illustrations by Zane Shetler who lives and works in Durham, NC. Check out more of his art and writing at

is a staff writer for The Millions living in Durham, NC. Learn more about Matt at

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