A Novelist’s “Magna Carta” (x2)

Thesis: try writing a novel. Or a list of novel elements. Or something.

I have not been able to pick up any books in a while, let alone finish one. The busy schedule of life and a dash of laziness has taken my summer by storm. Having a legal internship all summer long has also drained the supply of hours I would usually have available during the day. At this point, I just want to sleep. But I can’t. Because college has trained me to stay up until at least 11 pm.

So instead, I’ve turned my attention back to a book that I never quite finished last year.

no plot no problem
image taken from amazon.com

“No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days”

written by Chris Baty, founder of National Novel Writing Month

Yes, or NaNoWriMo for short.

The 30-day marathon every November to complete a 50,000-word novel. I’ve participated twice, 2013-2014. It was awesome. And regrettably, I skipped 2015 because . . . well, because law school happened (a trending reason for dropping all of your most creative hobbies for 3 years). Looking back, I should’ve just gone for it in 2015. I would have been a more pleasant person to speak with. I wouldn’t have lost my creativity. And my novel would have been an awesome stress reliever. Put in some action scenes, ridiculous plot twists, and kick-butt heroes beating up all those tortious villains. . .

Regrets at the missed opportunity.

But, anyway, this book!

This book is a laugh.

If you have the slightest desire to write something creative, even if it is NOT a 50,000-word novel, just read any chapter of this book.

I mean any chapter.

Or read the convenient, online versions of it found through Google searches. Chris Baty has a knack for making “writing a novel” sound like “go walk in the park.” It’s something you’re always thinking you should do, because it’s healthy and good for Vitamin D content and stuff, but you never get around to actually doing it. No reason for not getting around to doing it. You just never did. And so, you need a slight push. Baty’s book offers itself as that “slight push.”

One of the things that caught my eye when I went back to this book was a little portion on what Baty calls the author’s Magna Carta. Basically, it is a list of everything you think a good novel ought to contain. Then you make another list of everything you think a good novel ought not to contain (Hence my blog post title, Magna Cart (x2)).

He says every writer should have one. A highly personalized guideline of sorts. I’m not sure if it’s a necessity, but it’s certainly a fun project. Plus, it presents an easier project than the daunting task of writing 50,000 words.

At this point, I would like to encourage everyone to try this project out. No, Chris Baty is not paying me to advertise his book. But doesn’t it just sound like fun?

I’ll share a portion of the two Magna Cartas I created, to get us started.

What a good novel ought to contain (warning: personal preferences):

  1. solid character development
  2. a multi-faceted villain, but one that still properly acts like the bad guy (none of those “wait, he actually slaughtered everyone for a good cause” type villains)
  3. solid world-building (see Tolkien for example)
  4. descriptive narration that informs all 5 senses
  5. romance that does not totally ruin the story (a.k.a. female lead does not go from hero lady to blubbering mush in the process)
  6. main characters with strength, whether that is emotional, physical, intellectual, or other
  7. main characters with at least one interesting talent or hobby
  8. elements of fantasy or history (because diving into a different world is much more fun than staying within our own sometimes)
  9. action driven by dialogue
  10. something distinct that the reader can use to characterize the work in one sentence (e.g. The Book Thief is uniquely known for being narrated by Death. Harry Potter is uniquely known for Hogwarts. Twilight is… I won’t go there. I apologize to the reader.)

What a good novel ought not to contain:

  1. excessive, direct, and over-the-top descriptions of what the characters look like (Don’t tell me about his dazzling eyes. Don’t spend three paragraphs describing her cardigan and jeans.)
  2. Mary Sue (please Google search if you do not know what this is, and then feel guilty thinking of that one book you enjoyed that this trope reminds you of.)
  3. stereotypical supporting characters (the friendly male friend, the jealous female antagonist, the short but funny guy who actually ends up driving the plot, etc)
  4. love triangles that exist just for the sake of having angst
  5. science fiction elements that are used to justify all kinds of fantastic occurrences (my reasoning: might as well just call it magic and be done with it. Don’t spend a chapter explaining how science allows the characters to teleport.)
  6. long, straightforward narration of what is happening in the story right now.
  7. multiple protagonists (I always feel conflicted on who to root for…call it a personal preference.)
  8. emojis (let’s limit these to social media and Venmo, please)

What does your novel Magna Carta (x2) look like?


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