In my last blog post I mentioned the idea of creating a “Magna Carta.” Before I go any further, I should mention that this is not my idea. I read about it in a wonderful little book by NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty. It’s called No Plot, No Problem, and it’s all about how to write a full-length novel (50,000 words or more) in just one month. The book is full of tips on time management, backing-up files, writing at work, and finding your voice. It’s a must read for any beginning writer, whether you plan on participating in NaNoWriMo or not. I’m getting distracted, sorry.
One thing that Baty suggests doing, as a kind of homework assignment, is to create your Magna Carta. And no, he doesn’t mean for you to write a message to the Queen of England demanding your rights; this Magna Carta is going to be a list of things that you enjoy in the books you read, or the movies you watch. The thinking behind this is, if you know what you like, you’ll know what you’ll be good at writing. As an example, I’ll share my Magna Carta with you.
Multiple Story Arcs – If you’re like me, then one single arc isn’t going to satisfy your ADD. As an added bonus, I love when the multiple, separate arcs all come together in the end.
The Hero Doesn’t Get the Girl – I might come out sounding like a bit of a heartless bastard for this, but I just love a good, bitter-sweet ending. I want the hero to win, don’t get me wrong, but I just think it makes for a better ending if the hero walks away from his victory alone.
1st Person Perspective – I feel like this one is pretty self-explanatory. There’s a deeper feeling of immersion in the character, a more overwhelming sense of urgency, if you the reader are seeing things from the protagonist’s perspective.
3rd Person Omniscient – What?! I just said I loved 1st person narratives! Well, I do, but I’m also a big fan of the kind of stories that demand we see into the hearts and minds of multiple characters.
A Group of Experts – This is a Michael Crichton specialty and I am a nut for Michael Crichton. Especially his work from the late 80s to the late 90s. Jurassic Park, Airframe, Timeline, Sphere, Lost World, Next, Prey, Micro, all are novels featuring groups of scientists from different fields working together to solve a single problem or survive a single danger. I can’t get enough of these books (well, most of them anyway).
The Author Avatar – What I’m talking about here is a character in a book definitely and strongly taking on the author’s opinions on a subject. They may even strongly resemble the author (Keith Ablow, I’m looking at you). Michael Crichtion provides another great example of this in the character of Ian Malcolm from the novels Jurassic Park and The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
The Grizzled Old Man – Give me a tough, wrinkled, world-weary protagonist any day of the week over a young kid trying to find his place. I mean a real Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino type. Old, tough as nails, and crabby as hell to boot. That’s my kind of hero.
Putting the Hero Through the Wringer – What’s the point of winning if you didn’t earn it. I want my heroes to suffer for their prize. Two authors come to mind immediately when I think of gruelling paths for the hero: Stephen King and Chuck Palahnuik. For more specific examples, check out 11/22/63 by King or Fight Club by Palahnuik.
Autobiographies – I just love ’em.
The Bad Guy Gets What’s Coming To Him – Just because I don’t want the hero to get the girl, doesn’t mean I want him to fail. I love when the wheels of justice turn and the villain gets their comeuppance.
The Hero Falls – This goes along with putting him through the wringer, but in a more specific way. I like it when the hero falls completely from grace, is beaten to their utter lowest point. This gives them the chance to climb back up, rise above their failure and conquer their fears, in order to charge on to victory.
So this gives you an idea of what I mean. Tomorrow I’ll share the secret of the Magna Carta II.