Saturday, April 14, 2012

Magna Carta! Advice from Nanowrimo

When I tried out Nanowrimo for the first time, I read Chris Baty's book, No Plot, No Problem! from cover to cover. Since then, I've read most if not all of it each year. It's a very good book. Whether or not I continue to participate in the event, or at what capacity, I will continue to refer back to the volume for advice, motivation, and tips on keeping the words flowing. It's one of my (very few) repeated reads.

Today, for "M," I thought I would share my favorite little writing tip/exercise from the book. Baty calls these two lists your "magna cartas" and I use them as a map of what not to include in your writing, and what to absolutely include. It seems like a simple premise, write the kind of things you like to read about, but honestly, if you're not very careful to keep them in mind, a lot of things that you prefer NOT to read about have an insidious way of slipping into your writing. On top of that, your Magna Cartas may change over time. I know mine have. At least a little. Just like developing a taste for asparagus, I have grown less cringy about vampire's in fiction. I've enjoyed a few vampire stories, and I've written a few...very few, as well.

So, writing the MC is step one. Paying attention to it is step two, and I'll add that keeping it current is step three. Even if you only write them and forget them, the exercise is worth your time and introspection. So, for Magna Carta one, you make a list of all the things you really love to find in books you read.
Mine looks a little bit like this:

True love
Sympathetic Villains
Unexpected Twists
Unusual Aliens
Quirky minor characters
Mysterious items or artifacts
Exotic locations

You get the idea. Then for Magna Carta two you make a list of things you HATE to read about in a story. The things that put you off and damage your enjoyment of a book. Mine goes like this:

True horrors (rape, violence against children, torture etc)
Shallow Characters
Only pretty people
Depressing story lines
Flawless protagonists
Author interjections (passages of botany research or linguistics*)
Explaining things that are easily deduced

So, then you have at least a basic map of what you do and don't want to allow into your own writing, and they will be absolutely different for each person.
It's a fun and fast little process, and really great to do with a group where you can compare lists and giggle.

Why not give it a try?
*my apologies to Mr. Tolkien, whose books I did thoroughly enjoy even though I don't care at all what the derivation of the Elvin word for tree is.

~ Frances

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