I have been cleaning my office from top to bottom, in secret hopes of winning a Tidy Town award from Barbara O’Connor. While I have tidied from time to time, deep cleaning hadn’t happened since who knows when and I was slowly being sucked under by the paper and souvenirs and paper and books and paper and stuff.
I have been heartless, scanning documents I really, really need to save and pitching the rest. The result so far is that two file cabinets have shrunk to one.
In my frenzy, I’ve found some things I’d completely forgotten about, including two Magna Cartas created when I participated in NaNoWriMo a few years back. The idea was to set forth a personal statement defining what makes a good novel, as well as a partner statement delineating what I don’t like in novels.
Here’s Magna Carta I — my thoughts on what makes a good novel.
MAGNA CARTA I
What makes a good novel?
- A “real” character – someone with flaws
- A reluctant or longing hero (think of India Opal Buloni; Jack in Sea of Trolls)
- Quirky characters (think Broken for You; Alfred Kropp)
- A strong voice – sassy, to steal a word from Patty Gauch
- A sense of optimism and hope
- Room for me to figure things out for myself
- A sense of humor
- Interesting, concrete details – like the knot untying thing in Maniac Magee, or the writing in the wet concrete in Mick Harte Was Here.
- Snappy, lively dialogue that sounds like real people are talking
- Books in which people are trying to figure out what it means to be a human being
- Fresh metaphors and similes that don’t stop my reading but boost it along
- A sense of adventure, at some level (I’m thinking of Charlotte Doyle, the girl pirate books, etc.)
- A sense of mystery – either that there’s one to be solved or a story that celebrates the mystery of life
- Writing that makes me think
- Writing that explores what’s wrong and what’s right in the world on the page
- A sense of sacrifice – the m.c. must give something up in order to gain his/her goal.
- Conversational tone
- While setting isn’t overly important, I do enjoy knowing the story is set in a specific time and place (Feed; Ida B; Each Little Bird)
- It doesn’t have to be fast-paced or glitzy but it should show me something new – like Criss-Cross
Even a few years away from creating this list, it still holds together for me. I can’t think of much to add. What would your list look like?
Tomorrow, I’ll post Magna Carta II.