No Plot? No Problem is by Chris Baty, the founder of National Novel Writing Month. I picked it up a while back out of curiosity, and enjoyed it quite a lot. Since November is coming up, I thought it might be a nice time to reread it. Which is hilarious, because despite multiple attempts, I have never "won" a NaNo (written a 50,000-word novel during November), and this year I don't plan on participating at all due to a certain book three I owe my publisher. But that's okay!
No Plot? No Problem! is a writing how-to book, but more importantly, it's a writing how-to book specifically geared to the madcap NaNo writing experience. You might not be writing your novel specifically during November along with the other NaNo participants, but the expectation is that you're going to be writing a short novel with minimal preparation and an emphasis on quantity over quality--the sheer exuberance of creativity. While some notes at the end talk about how to revise, that's not the focus of Baty's book.
I will own that I love this book. It is cracky and funny and irreverent, and as it turns out, that is exactly what I enjoy in my writing how-to books. Not the only thing, but one of the things. Here's an example:
Like any good vacation, half the fun of writing a novel is getting properly outfitted. A month-long noveling trip requires a shopping spree every bit as enjoyable as a jaunt to the Bahamas. And if you pinch pennies, you can get all the tech gear, low-tech tools, and copious amounts of treats you need for under $35.
The stuff you need falls neatly into two categories: things you can put in your mouth and things you shouldn't. We'll tackle the inedible writing tools first, and then move on to the essential snacks and drinks.
Needless to say, this requires that the reader be able to tell when Baty is being tongue-in-cheek. Nevertheless, some of the writing advice is genuine, and genuinely useful to me. Whether it's useful to another writer is going to be a matter of YMMV.
One of the exercises I like is to create what Baty calls a Magna Carta I and a Magna Carta II for your writing. In Magna Carta I, you list things that you enjoy or find appealing when you're reading. In Magna Carta II, you list turn-offs. The point is to be able to stuff in bunches of things from the former and avoid writing the latter. This sounds like it might be obvious, except Baty's contention is that writers often find themselves writing things that they don't enjoy writing out of a sense that it's more "literary" or "serious" or "good for them." I have definitely fallen prey to this in the past!
For the curious, here are my current lists, incomplete:
Magna Carta I (things I love in fiction)
- big space battles
- chessmasters (I get all my tropes from TV Tropes)
- Magnificent Bastards (I get all my tropes from TV Tropes)
- moral event horizons (I get all my...okay, okay, you get the idea!)
- grimdark worldbuilding
- grace notes of hope
- complicated and conflicting loyalties
- nonstandard worldbuilding, especially sociocultural stuff
- conlang and linguistics notes
- cracky comedy
- bureaucracy hijinks
Magna Carta II (things I usually can't stand in fiction)
- love triangles, etc.
- multigenerational family sagas
- plot points only happening due to people refusing to communicate with each other when it would make senes for them to do so
- cardboard villains
Please note, this is not the same as "good" or "bad"--some of the things I hate in fiction are perfectly good tropes that work fine for other readers! And sometimes things I hate can be done so well that I'm won over in spite of myself. But in general, I should probably avoid writing things that aren't my jam.
In any case, while I can't do NaNo this year, I will happily cheer on anyone else who's going for it! Are any of y'all giving it a swing?