Personal Magna Cartas

I’ve read Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem! several times. (If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend it – the book is fun to read, concise, and offers some great advice for stripping the stress from your writing process.)

In the book, one of his suggestions is to create two separate Magna Cartas for us, as writers, to refer back to time and again – reminders of what we love and hate in novels. Things to remember to add or steer away from in our own writing:

“What, to you, makes a good novel?

It’s an excruciatingly broad question, but give it a shot. And feel free to be as vague or as nerdily detailed as you like; this list can include anything from ultra-short chapters to ribald sex scenes to massive infusions of ill-tempered elves. Anything that floats your fictional boat should go on the list.” ~ Chris Baty, No Plot? No Problem!

“For the second list, write down those things that bore or depress you in novels. Again, feel free to be as specific or wide-ranging as you like. And be honest. If you don’t like books where the words-to-pictures ratio favors the text too heavily, write that down. We just want to understand you better.” ~Chris Baty, No Plot? No Problem!

I came across my own Magna Cartas just now, and thought they would be fun to share. I read “No Plot? No Problem!” in October 2012, just before Nano, and it helped me immensely. That was one of the most exciting stories I’ve written, and with Chris’ advice I was able to pump out the 50k without getting bored once during the entire month of November.

These are word-for-word, just as I wrote them back then. My apologies in advance for the language… my personal writing tends to lack a filter. So, here we go – my own personal Magna Cartas of writing!

What makes a good novel to me?

  • Suspense
  • Gritty themes
  • Strong romance (not the lovey-dovey kind)
  • Bad-ass male protagonists
  • Dark fantasy/urban fantasy
  • Protagonists breaking free and finding themselves
  • Balance between internal and external conflict
  • Villains I’d like to have a beer with
  • Gray-area stuff – no clear-cut black vs. white/good vs. evil
  • Archers, rogues, scoundrels, and swashbucklers
  • Tons of page-turning action and conflict
  • Amazing, heavy descriptions packed into just a few words
  • Concise, clear-cut, fast-paced writing style
  • Outcasts doing awesome things and becoming heroes

What bores or depresses me in novels?

  • Prophecy and destiny
  • Chicks who are around just to fawn over the guys (or vice versa)
  • Long, boring description (a la Robert Jordan)
  • Too much politics or logics shit I can’t follow without busting a brain vessel
  • Limp, floppy characters I wanna smack (read: pussies)
  • Deus ex machina
  • Flowery language just for the sake of flowery language

I find that these still hold true over a year after writing them. I’m sure I could have embellished on these lists a bit more, but these were the absolute core things that excited or bored me. Interesting that I came across them in my notes right when I needed them =)

What are your own personal Magna Cartas of writing? I’d love to hear them!



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