Saturday, December 18, 2010

My Magna Carta

Chris Baty, in his novel writing instruction book, "No Plot? No Problem!" discusses creating a “Magna Carta” of novel writing. A list that can act as a guide during Nanowrimo. While we are outside of Nanowrimo at the moment, I realize that I have never made a Magna Carta for myself.

To start, I went through a list of my favourite novels and looked for themes and commonalities. My shortened list looks like this:

And I pull out the following:

  • This is largely science-fiction/fantasy list
  • There is a theme of children/students and learning
  • 3rd person omniscient narration
  • Good endings (believable and non-obvious) or large reveals, sometimes, the entire novel is written around the ending
  • The writing style is sophisticated without being flowery or over the top
  • There is a show, don't tell focus as well as implying without saying things directly
  • It feels like the author has through about every detail and developed a complete history/backstory, which gives the novel depth. The author doesn't need to go into all the details however.
  • The characters are multi-faceted, three dimensional and have clear and sometimes conflicting motivations. They typically learn something about their place in the universe or make the hero's journey (“Hero with a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell)
  • Most are one-off novels without sequels or series OR can be read in isolation
  • Many have no clear heroes of villains, but merely people on opposite sides
This sounds like a list that anyone would have with any good novel. In a way, all I really want is good story, good writing skills, good characters etc...

I realize that in a way, a list like this could potentially lock me in a box. However, I always keep in mind that some of my favorite novels can break any of the rules at any time and still succeed. It's "whatever works" in my ways and I have to keep that in mind. Still, a reminder of what I like while I'm writing is a good idea and I have it here.

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