As I’m furiously completing this draft of my YA masterpiece, I’m constantly checking in with my novel and screenwriting reference books to make sure that I’m staying on track, avoiding common amateur mistakes, and following three-act structure, plot, and character rules.
One of these “how to write” books had a great exercise for keeping an author focused on his/her overall goals for the novel. I cannot remember which book suggested this piece of advice, but it is brilliant.
Create your own Magna Carta.
Your own personal Magna Carta is simply an honest list of things you like and dislike when reading stories. That’s it!
My Magna Carta:
First-person point of view
Intense love stories
Humor (even intense dramas must have some)
Realistic characters, plot, setting, dialogue
Makes me laugh and/or cry
Surprise or twist endings
Multicultural (to me this means using characters from a variety of backgrounds; rich, poor, different customs, be liefs, religions, philosophies)
Pretentious writing or characters
Verbose writing or overuse of fancy words
Overly quirky characters
Characters who speak too young/old for their ages
Mean-spirited or selfish protagonists
Overly depressing, disturbing, no comic relief, no hope (see: House of Sand and Fog, The Road)
Fancy, rich-people settings
Lame endings (out of the blue or abrupt)
Contrived Multicultural (Specifically, the use of token characters with pigment, trying to pass as “multicultural” writing. Drives me crazy! “Culture” implies a way of life, NOT a shade of pigment. Stepping down off soapbox now…)
For me the exercise is so simple, yet so useful. It’s a constant reminder of what I want (and do not want) to accomplish in telling a story. If I can just stick all the things I love to see in novels into my own novel, then I’ll be satisfied as an artist. Easier said than done, of course!
8 days to go until I hit my deadline. I just hope I’m doing my Magna Carta proud!