One of the simplest but most impactful ways to strengthen your writing is to make two lists:
- A list of what you love in fiction.
- And a list of what you hate.
The founder of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), Chris Baty calls them the “magna carta” in his book No Plot? No Problem!.
Creating these lists will provide you clarity and guidance when you’re feeling lost or uninspired. Experiencing writer’s block or feel like it’s lacking something? Check your lists — something there may spark your imagination.
They’re also a good metric for when you’re checking in on your project to make sure it’s got enough of what you love and that nothing you dislike is accidentally slipping in under the radar.
Here’s how to create your own love/hate lists to have in your writing toolbox.
Other posts you may like:
- Writing Tools for Authors That Make the Process Easier
- How to Overcome Procrastination as a Writer
- Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Book in a Box” Note-Taking System for Writing a Novel
Author’s Toolbox: Love/Hate Lists
Your Love List
For this list, think about everything that you love to read and write. What gets your heart racing? What things, when you hear that they’re in a story you haven’t read or watched yet, immediately grab your attention and make you want to dive in?
Think about your favorite stories. Do a deep-dive into what you love about them and start making a list. What are the reoccurring elements you notice across many (or all) of them?
Include notes about things like:
- Genres and sub-genres
- Character traits
- Plot elements
- What it makes you feel
It may even be helpful to actually go back to some of your favorite books, TV shows, and movies to refresh your memory. Keep your notebook handy and read/watch them with the purpose of pulling those things out and analyzing them.
Your Hate List
Now, it’s time to go to the other end of the spectrum with the same elements.
What can you not stand in fiction? What turns you off? What bores you and instantly makes you disconnect from a story?
Go through the stories that have pulled negative reactions from you. It may be an entire book that on the surface looked like something you would like, but once you got into it, it got everything wrong. Or maybe it’s a TV series that you loved in seasons 1 and 2, but season 3 was a mess. What happened that ruined it for you?
Most of the time, you’ll intuitively avoid including the things you dislike in your own stories, but it’s also possible for things to slip in there that you aren’t even aware of.
It’s not easy to get an objective view of our own stories. We can fall into the traps of the very things we don’t like without even realizing it, so studying them carefully and keeping yourself well-versed in those pitfalls is a great way to sharpen your awareness and avoid those mistakes.
Keep them handy
Make sure both of these lists are somewhere you can easily access, keep them updated, and refer back to them whenever you need a boost of inspiration.
Leave a Comment