18.5.12 | By: Megan Langham

What The Heart Wants

When I was browsing through the 800-899 shelves of our local library, I came across a book that I'd been hearing about consistently for the past three-coming-up-on-four Novembers: No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty. In spite of all the recommendations I couldn't be bothered to read it before -- perhaps the title put me off, as I'm an incorrigible outliner. But on an impulse I checked it out, and I'm glad I did. While a substantial chunk of the book was essentially repeating what I had already learned through three years of NaNoWriMo and a lifetime of writing, I did come across some delightful little gems of helpfulness.

One of these was the "Magna Carta" exercise, which involves creating two separate lists gleaned from your experience as a reader. The first is an enumeration of everything that draws you to a book and keeps you there, leaving an feeling of practical enchantment and time well-spent in its wake. The second -- significantly more grumpy but just as useful -- involves detailing the sorts of things that make you cringe when you come across them in a book (or even a book's description), leaving nothing but a bad taste in your mouth and a sickening sense of time wasted. Beyond providing a reliable, if predictable, glimpse of your personality, the resulting lists are meant to guide you through your writing decisions. According to Chris Baty, "if you won't enjoy reading it, then you won't enjoy writing it". The idea is to remember what you love and pursue that, rather than pandering to a popular idea that you can't abide.

These are my Magna Cartas, below.

she loves

melodic writing that flows naturally yet cleverly // intense platonic same-sex friendships // dreams // bittersweet yet satisfying endings // short chapters beginning with quotations // intergenerational friendships // dry wit // evocative descriptions // european history // may-december romances // alternate history // female characters who are strong because they are feminine // male characters who are not afraid to be vulnerable // the ocean // time travel // tortured characters // emotionally jarring yet meaningful death // lengthy and complicated backstory // subtle sexual chemistry // heroic sacrifices // kind middle-aged english professors // enfp characters of any persuasion // warrior priests // non-stereotypical bookworms // sympathetic villains // a strong undercurrent of faith

she loathes

stilted writing // teenage romances // cliché rebellious princesses // one-dimensional villains // unnecessary sex scenes // emotionally frigid businesswomen // stuffy hypocritical evangelicals // crude humour // an unrealistically beautiful cast // unresolved endings // completely senseless deaths // overly scientific explanations // violence described in cringing detail // infidelity portrayed as a good thing // obvious moral messages // mile-long chapters // body image issues as a plot point // polar bears // lack of structure // almost any modern setting

The things that you appreciate as a reader are also the things you'll likely excel at as a writer. These bits of language, colour, and technique, for whatever reason, make sense to your creative brain. These are the Things You Understand."

--Chris Baty

5 missives:

Marian said...

I enjoyed reading your lists, and agree with you on many of them! May have to try this...

Rachel Heffington said...

Very interesting concept! Thanks for sharing this Megan!

Megan Langham said...

Thanks, you two! I'm glad you enjoyed the post -- and if you do try it, I'd love to see what you come up with. :)

j said...

...polar bears?

Megan Langham said...

YES. They make me go all sick and panicky inside, sort of the way spiders do. I know it's a weird phobia, but I somehow ended up with it. AND SO I DO NOT LIKE TO READ ABOUT THEM EVER.

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