Thursday, July 15, 2010

Cleaning House

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.

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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.


  1. Okay, I'm giving you the Tidy Town award for that.

    I love that list. I can't think of a single thing to add to it.

    I'm going to print it out and put it in one of my files. Now....where did I put that file? I know it's under this pile somewhere. :-)

  2. My list would look just like yours. I'm saving it and pasting it next to my desk, which doesn't have a prayer of ever winning a Tidy Town award so it just gets worse.

  3. May we all aspire to write such books. Thanks for sharing this, Kirby:)

  4. Great list and thank-you to Barbara for linking to you. I totally agree with the snappy dialogue thing. Hate it when kids sound like miniature adults (not the kids who are supposed to be that way! ie quirky character, etc).
    I, too, will paste and ponder both your lists.

  5. Fantastic post, Kirby! What a great list. I'm printing this out, too. And I agree with everyone on it. Now I'm mentally checking the list with my own current WIPs.