My Magna Carta II

Last week I posted my Magna Carta I, a look at what elements I enjoy in a novel. Here’s my take on the Magna Carta II, a corresponding list of things that bore me in a novel. If they’re bad enough, these factors can make me roll my eyes, skip sections, or possibly even make me stop reading.

The lists are called “Magna Cartas” because they’re to be used as a sort of master list of Dos and Don’ts of novel-writing as I prepare for NaNoWriMo in a few days. Credit for this idea goes to Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo, in his book No Plot? No Problem!.

My Magna Carta II:

  • Openings that try to pull me into the book in a manipulative way. For example, a first sentence like: “Harry’s fingers slipped as he dangled from the cliff edge.”
  • Long prologues, especially in italics.
  • Bad grammar and spelling!
  • Long passages of exposition or worldbuilding.
  • Exhaustive character descriptions. I don’t want to hear about the planes of the face, the aquiline nose, the shape of the eyes, etc. At least, not at length.
  • Ranting about real-world politics, religion, etc at the expense of story.
  • Stereotypical villains that aren’t real.
  • Main characters who don’t seem three-dimensional.
  • Battle scenes that detail every troop movement and tactic. *closes book*
  • Too much action at the expense of dialogue and characterization. Rushing around here and there.
  • Starting the novel with a lengthy passage about the character’s ordinary day.
  • Lack of relatable characters. (I want to like at least one of the characters.)

These are a lot of things, and a Nanowrimo novel by its nature might be prey to some of these. After all, the Nanowrimo novel is a rush product that hasn’t been rewritten or edited. Sometimes there hasn’t even been much in the way of prior planning for the novel. So, my first draft might end up with some of these problems. Still, they’re things for me to keep in mind and try to avoid as I write. A goal to strive for!

Here’s a link to my post on my Magna Carta I.

Good luck on Nanowrimo!

** Featured image is by Anastasia Zhenina on Unsplash **



My Magna Carta I

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

The Word Count Blues, Nanowrimo Edition

Last year, I blogged about daily word count, and how it doesn’t work for me as a motivational tool.

I also previously blogged about Nanowrimo, which I thought worked for me, as a one-time sprint of sorts, during which the normal rules of my own writing process did not apply.

I signed up for this year’s Nanowrimo in an effort to jumpstart my productivity. Numerous changes and events this year left me writing at less than my usual level, and — remembering 2011’s frantic yet successful sprint to finish a 50,300 word draft — I thought this would help.

I made one, critical, mistake. I let the contest rule me, instead of using the contest to help me.

After the first couple of relatively trouble-free days, things in my story vision took a new turn, as they do. That complicated things. Also, several interruptions from real life meant I would — horror of horrors — have to catch up later. I began to stress out.

When I saw that I had not reached my goal, I sat down with grim determination the next day — so motivated to pass that arbitrary finish line that my creativity died on the spot.

And it happened again, until I could not write at all.

I joked to my husband that I was in the basement on the computer typing “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” *

Several days into November, then, I changed my goal. I would not try to meet a target word count, nor would I look at others’ word counts as they sailed victoriously on. I would write to my own personal target — a certain dramatic scene, or a chapter, or plot development I was struggling with.

It’s all about the writing.

Now — half through November — I am way behind the word count for Nanowrimo, but I will not attempt to catch up. Since I stopped the obsessive counting, I recognize my writing again. I think I have a darn good story in the works.

Nanowrimo is a great idea. For those who respond to that kind of motivation, it can mean getting a novel on paper that otherwise would never have been written. It even worked for me once. But not this time.

And my Work in Progress is taking shape very well.

Wonder if I’ve learned my lesson this time?

*from The Shining