A Record-Setting Day Six

Today worked out quite nicely. But we’ll get to that shortly.

The NaNoWriMo people understand that it can be hard to stay focused when you’re barreling through 50,000 words in thirty days, so Chris Baty came up with some tools to help. Among them are the two Magna Cartas.

Magna Carta I is a list of “things” (a wonderfully nebulous term) that you love about writing and reading in books. It can be anything, this isn’t supposed to be a hard list to make. My other NaNos and I met together on New Year’s Day to pump each other up and one of the activities we did was make this list. Mine was as follows:

Magna Carta I: Things I Love in Novels

slapstick
dark humor
complex characters
other worlds
writers who play
possibilities
multiple endings
characters who change
writing that illustrates
irony
recurring themes
uncertainty
revelations (NOT the religious kind . . .)
strong women
stretching conventions
breaking conventions
mixing genres
visceral details

This list serves as a kind of well pool in case we get stuck. We can always glance at the list and double-check that we are including the things we love into our fiction. After all, no one wants to write 50,000 words and then realize they hate them.

The other list is, not surprisingly, a list of things that we hate (or ‘do not like’ to the apologists) that are found in novels. Mine is:

Magna Carta II: Things I Hate in Novels

supposed “objectivity” (*maniacal chuckle*)
soapbox beating
simple answers
stereotypes
melodramatic characters
looooooong (we’re talking pages here) descriptions
story “telling”
purple prose
cliches
attempts at merely being “hip”
just about anything written before 1930 (hyperbole? . . . mmmmmaybe not)
gender roles unchallenged
violence as the only answer
character cheats
authorial tricks that serve as justification for moral actions

Character cheats and authorial tricks go hand-in-hand. What I mean is whenever an author overtly manipulates the plot or whatever in order to get a contrived or simple answer. Examples: I see this a lot in movies, especially action flicks. Many times you’ll get a big manly hero-type and he’ll go on a genocidal murder-spree in order to save something (the world, his wife, Alyssa Milano, whatever) but then when he faces the big bad wolf, the villain says some variant of “You can’t destroy my evil without becoming it!” and then the hero is all conflicted because he has to be a sympathetic genocidal maniac. Enter: the author, who contrives the action in a way that the hero turns away from killing the villain at the last second but then the villain (since he’s SOOOOO evil) somehow ends up killing himself. That, to me, is dishonest. If you believe in non-violence, have the balls to accept the fact that you can’t kill villains. Don’t cheat. The deus-ex machina is the same thing. Here’s the hero in a ridiculously dangerous situation with no logical way to get out. Enter: the author, swooping in like Tolkien’s eagles (oh wait, there’s one) or the cavalry or the clone army or whatever you want to call it to tie things up in a neat little bow. Yaaaaaay! Sci-fi and fantasy are notorious for the ol’ deus-ex. Here’s a ridiculously evil wizard or battle station or . . . clone army, alien race, etc. and it looks like there’s no hope for the rebels . . . except that some peasant kid happens to find the one thing in the entire universe that can kill anyone who’s ever been evil ever in their lives, ensuring a timely happily ever after.

“But, Chris,” you say, “*insert movie or novel* uses *insert aspect from Magna Carta II* and I know for a fact that you like it. It says so on you facebook/myspace!”

Yeah, yeah, yeah. The list is just a general sense. It doesn’t mean that an author can’t effectively use one of those things for an authentic effect. It all depends on what they’re trying to say. But 99 times out of 100, I’d like it better if they avoided them.

But enough of that.

My friends and I also had a fun challenge to describe our novel in one sentence. Here’s my modifier-strewn one:

“My novel is a genre-bending, darkly ironic, convention flouting, woman empowering meditation on the narratives we create to explain our morals and the principles by which we live, as well as a deconstruction of the techniques by which we create them.”

“But, Chris,” you say, “that sentence tells me nothing about the plot of your book.”

Weeeeell, that actually makes me happy. ’cause I’ve noticed that, in most of the books that I really, really like, the plot is just that, while the story is something else entirely. What’s that mean? It means I can be really, really pretentious 🙂 but it also means that I may just like what I happen to be writing.

Today’s final word count: 3,075

It’s getting easier.

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