Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo, wrote a book called No Plot? No Problem!, in which he outlined his steps to writing a novel in 30 days. One of the very early steps is to make a couple of lists, which will serve as the writer’s “Magna Carta” during the frantic rush to write 50,000 words in one month. List One is a personalized list of What Makes a Good Novel; List Two, things that bore or depress you in novels. The idea is to hang these lists up and use them as your personal Dos and Don’ts.
Just for fun, here’s my own take on the Magna Carta I:
- Speculative fiction! (I love it best.)
- Complex main characters.
- Main characters that change.
- Not too many points of view.
- If there’s magic, it should require some cost or consequence.
- If there are aliens, they should be developed as carefully as the human characters.
- Excellent, in-depth worldbuilding that’s obvious in the story and dialogue, where there is a real reason for things in the world to be as they are — but not too much time “describing” it!
- Attention paid to diversity, BUT —
- Diversity that doesn’t hit me with a hammer.
- A touch of humor.
- An antagonist who’s real (more than a paper cut-out villain).
- Good, realistic interpersonal relationships shown in dialogue and action, not just sex.
- Good imagery.
- Some sort of religion/belief system/code that may vary by social/occupational class or culture — because that’s part of life.
- Well-described but short action/battle scenes.
That’s a long list. (It would’ve been even longer, but I forced myself to stop thinking of things.) Some novels I like quite a lot wouldn’t meet all these requirements. But still, these are the things that keep me reading, and things I can aim for in my next attempt at NaNoWriMo.
Note: I’ve done NaNoWriMo twice. (A third time I used the event to begin the process of finishing and polishing my previous NaNoWriMo novel.) Once I thought the event was useful, and one time I quit in frustration. My previous posts about NaNoWriMo are here and here.
Photo Credit: The header image is from a photograph by Anastasia Zhenina, from Unsplash.com.