>> Tuesday, October 20, 2009
In his book No Plot? No Problem!, Chris Baty has a section devoted to creating what he calls the Magna Cartas.
Basically, you compile two lists: things you like in novels, and things you don't like. While writing the novel, keep these lists handy. His theory is that when you like something as a reader, you are likely to enjoy writing about it. And if you don't like something, chances are trying to write about it will turn out a chore.
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 nerdily detailed as you like; this list can include anything from ultra-shot chapters to ribald sex scenes to massive infusions of ill-tempered elves.
(pg 85, "No Plot? No Problem!" by Chris Baty)
It doesn't have to be an exhaustive list--and you don't have to finish it all in one setting. [Also, don't worry if you don't have time to do this before NaNo. It's not strictly NaNoWriMo related, and like all tools, it's optional. ;)] You can always add to it later, revise it, etc. If you're short on time, or aren't sure this will work, jot down half a dozen things off the top of your head for a start.
Do you like zombie/ghoul romance, or is your thing more along the lines of airplanes that evolve into spaceships and voyage out into the depths of the universe?
Add whatever you like. You don't have to show the list to anyone if you don't want. (It can be your own, your precious...) Just have it available when you start writing.
Stuck in chapter 4? Look at the list. Maybe you indicated you like high speed car chases through narrow streets, and your characters are already downtown and being pursued by a motorcycle gang. Why not make the getaway scene a car chase?
It could be a technique or device as well. Do you like reading second person scenes in between chapters that show you the bad guy without revealing who it is? Why not try that technique in your novel?
If you're fond of heavy symbolism, there are probably many areas you could slip in imagery and metaphors and parallels and whatever else you want to squeeze in there.
This list can be helpful for plotting as well as actual writing. (If you like car chases, maybe you already planned to include the madcap race through the metropolis sewers on hoverbikes.)
You may not realize you like certain aspects or techniques of writing (as a reader) until you start listing them--or maybe "high speed chases" jars your memory and you realize you also like reading about underwater mazes. Hey, a high speed chase through an underwater maze might just make the perfect plot point in your novel.
(I've noticed I can read something, a novel or story, and I may react right away as a reader--emotional or lack thereof gut reaction to something--and it's not until I start writing down what I thought about it do I realize what I liked and disliked, and why. In a way, lists are like this. They help distill and sort out all the mushed up and packed-in things--likes and dislikes and weird tics--you accumulate while reading and writing.)
Another quote from Baty:
…the things that you appreciate as a reader are also things you’ll likely excel at as a writer. These bits of language, color, and technique, for whatever reason, make sense to your creative brain.
(pg 86, "No Plot? No Problem!" by Chris Baty)
Sometimes you just need a written list to jog your brain when you're in the middle of a mad write-a-thon like NaNoWriMo.
You can't expect yourself to remember everything you've ever liked as a reader while cranking out words. (Much of it may become instinctual as you mature as a writer. Or you have a massive intellect and really do remember it all. Some of need lists still. ;))
On a similar note, Lianna Brooks did a post on lists of shiny that's equally helpful (mirrored as well by Inky). What does your "list of shiny" include? If you like bright colored explosions, why not blow up a paint factory? Maybe that's why the car chase is necessary--getting away from the scene of the explosion before the authorities arrive.
Remember, too, that lists can always be changed. Peoples' tastes can change over time. Don't be afraid to modify your list later--it's not set in stone (unless you go out and get concrete slabs to chisel you list into). And it also doesn't dictate what you must include in a novel. It's not a list of commandments.
It's just a tool (one of many) to help you. How you use it and what you use it for are always up to you.
Have you made your own "Magna Carta" about what you like? What are some of the things included in it? Do you find this tool/idea helpful, or is it a waste of time for you?
Feel free to share your thoughts.