Create Your Like-Lists (NaNo Prep 3)

Chris Batty wrote a short book about NaNoWriMo, designed to encourage the first-time novelist to dive in, whether or not s/he has a sound story idea yet.

There are things people can do, he urges, even if they don’t have a story idea yet.

I am one of those who needs more structure or substance to commit to the process (more than cheer-leaders and personal enthusiasm, I mean), but one big thing I learned from his book I recommend to any aspiring Novelist.

Get honest about your preferences.

Image courtesy of Davide Guglielmo via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of Davide Guglielmo via stock.xchng

Now, I talk about preferences in terms of personality, and I mean the word in the same way here: You have things that straight-up fit better and come easier for you. These are things you out-right LOVE.

The important thing about “doing what you love” isn’t necessarily that you’re better at it.

The important thing about “doing what you love” is that you will want to keep doing it, and do more, and stick with it when you hit a rough patch. It is such persistence that leads to being better. To being actually really good.

This is true in your noveling as well.

Take a break and make a list. Two lists, ultimately, so knowing yourself, decide if you’ll do this better sequentially (one after the other) or at the same time.

List 1: Things I like in a novel.

List 2: Things I don’t like in a novel.

This is crazy-important, even if you already have your story idea.

First, it’s important that your writing please you.

Many many writers describe their start as writing the book they always wanted to read, and quite often it was a book their newly discovered fans wanted to read as well.

Second, if you’ve already determined that ______________ makes you crazy in a story, you will (if you are ready to be both honest and challenged) become a better writer as you find other way to meet your story goals.

What do I mean?

An example:

I Hate (hate-hate-hate) conflict without motivation. And I can’t stand “misunderstandings” that exist only to advance the plot, that could be resolved by a simple, open conversation between the two descent people involved.

And I write fantasy with a romance element.

Which means that we’re-both-male-leaders-therefore-we-must-fight (I’m looking at YOU Prince Caspian!) and something-has-to-keep-us-to-of-bed-so-I-don’t-like-you-and-won’t-say-why (cliché problem to keep couple apart without threatening their imagined perfection) are both off the table.

I call those things lazy writing— taking the easy route– half defiantly, and half wistfully.

But it makes me work harder, better, to be true to myself and the sort of story I want to give my readers.

So, to get your juices flowing, here’s an example of my likes. I try to get as many likes in my story as possible, and, well, work around the dis likes as much as possible.


  1. Physical (especially trans-species) transformation
  2. Music as part of story
  3. Well behaved animals (impeccably trained or sentient)
  4. “Convenient” sleeping and awake times from the babies/kids
  5. Mysteries that go deep into folklore
  6. Making necessary elements of folk/fairy tales natural
  7. Genuine peril
  8. Threatening villain
  9. Uncertainty of friends (sometimes)
  10. Genuine friends (other times)
  11. Inside jokes, terms and secret codes.
  12. A thinking character watching the process of his or her thought.
  13. Mixing folk elements from various cultures and seeing it “work”
  14. Complexity (lack of obvious predictability)
  15. Surprising twists and secrets that the reader discovers with the protagonist
  16. Cleverness
  17. Characters out-thinking one another
  18. Courtesy among enemies
  19. Truth-telling as a form of riddling and testing
  20. Witty banter
  21. Good conversations
  22. The protective defender
  23. Dramatic rescues
  24. Endurance through fear
  25. Acts of evil are shocking offenses to the way things should be.
  26. Misunderstood identity/”fish out of water”
  27. Build on characteristics the protagonist(s) have to begin with, but doesn’t imagine any of them are already complete
  28. Overcoming an old enemy through what they’ve learned on their journey
  29. More than one character changes
  30. Acknowledge (and explore to some extent) the power of relationship
  31. Thought-provoking observations


  1. Conflict without motivation
  2. Not-talking being the reason something bad happens
  3. Smart characters acting clueless
  4. Any character changing to serve the plot, rather than because of the plot.
  5. Sex without significance (i.e., without the benefits or the consequences)
  6. Defiant/disobedient/“mischievous” children being portrayed as cute and entertaining (I find them irritating)
  7. Unremitting *Angst*
  8. Daily details that don’t advance the story (setting is fine, day-in-the-life-of, not interested).
  9. Over-hinting
  10. Dragging the There’s-something-important-you-don’t-know wait too long
  11. *Everything* stacked against the protagonist (They exist to be miserable)
  12. Too much time is spent on the meaningless, to no end
  13. I can tell where this is going, it will end badly (and frequently was utterly avoidable)
  14. Cruelty (a villain chooses a particular evil *because* it strikes so hard and deeply into his/her victim’s psyche) — honestly I go back and forth on this one; I see its usefulness, too.
  15. The fate/destiny/end of the characters is utterly outside of their own control–can’t be changed or improved by wise choices or good counsel

Image courtesy of Davide Guglielmo via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of Davide Guglielmo via stock.xchng

How do your likes/dislikes line up?  Any must-haves or must-avoids you want to share?