Bran Flakes and the Two Magna Cartas


Hi, everyone!  Things aren’t going very smoothly over here at Casa Owen so far this week, so here’s a repost for all you NaNo writers out there (and really, anyone who’s a reader will get something from this, too).

November is just a few weeks away – good luck!



After shamelessly stalking eavesdropping on Twitter peeps and reading blogs of fellow writers, it seems the watercooler discussion is centering around NaNoWriMo, pet name for “National Writing Month,” which takes place during the month of November.  Those folks who participate commit to writing an entire novel in that one month.  For more information, click on my earlier post.

So, it made sense that today’s theme would be:

Bran Flakes and the Two Magna Cartas

And what do bran flakes and Magna Cartas (I thought there was only one Magna Carta, right?) have to do with NaNoWriMo?  Glad you asked!  Let’s talk about the two Magna Cartas first, because this is cool stuff, even for folks who aren’t participating in NaNoWriMo.

The concept of the two Magna Cartas (MCI and MCII, for short) comes from Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo and author of No Plot? No Problem! MCI and MCII are personal lists.  MCI is the list of all the things you like in a novel – they can be broad, as in “Science Fiction,” or very detailed, as in “club-footed albino ninjas.”  Go crazy – there are no right or wrong answers; it’s whatever you like.

MCII (Baty refers to this as the “Evil Twin of Magna Carta I”) is the list of what you absolutely cannot tolerate in a novel, things that make you feel depressed, bored, ready to fling the book (but please, spare the e-reader) across the room.  Again, it’s personal preference.  Can’t stand cowboys?  Okay, write it down.  Do adorably precocious children make your flesh crawl?  Add it to the list.

According to Baty, the making of these two lists is the only preparation that’s absolutely essential before starting to write, and will guide the writer through the writing process (I have a hard time believing that you don’t need a plot, but, hey, I’m a mystery writer – we’ll save that for another post).  Your MCI would guide you as to what to include in your novel; your MCII would remind you of what you do not want in your novel.

So why is the MCII so important, you ask?  If I detest adorable precocious children, I certainly wouldn’t be at risk of putting them in my novel, now would I?

Aha!  Not so fast.  This is where breakfast cereal comes in.  Let me quote Baty on this (he explains it better):

“The reason they’ll make their way onto your pages is related to the same scientific principle of self-betterment that causes us to bring high-brow tomes home from the bookstore knowing full well they’ll go straight onto the bookshelf and never be touched again until our kids move us and our possessions into that miserable senior home down the road.

We buy these difficult books because we feel that, while not very exciting, they are in some way good for us.  It’s a sort of literature-as-bran-flake philosophy:  If something is dry and unpalatable, it must be doing something good to our constitutions.  This kind of thinking also carries over to the writing realm.  If we’re worried that our story is lacking in substance, the first thing most of us automatically reach for to fix it are the bran morsels from the MCII.” (87)

Interesting idea, isn’t it?  I made the lists, and found them quite helpful.  Yes, both of them.  It’s very hard to shake the idea that if it tastes bad, it’s probably good for you.

Have you ever caught yourself putting something in your story you don’t like, because you feel as if it “should” be there?  Are you going to make your two Magna Cartas?  Share them here!  We’d all love to see them.

Until next time,

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7 thoughts on “Bran Flakes and the Two Magna Cartas”

  1. Shellie SakaiShellie Sakai

    Yuck bran flakes! And yes, I caught myself doing exactly that, putting something in that I thought “should be there”. Thanks for letting me know that I can continue to hate bran flakes and I don’t have to eat them!

  2. Gene LemppGene Lempp

    Unfortunately, ideas come from everywhere inside the mind and in the spur of a moment anything can be grabbed to fill a need, including killer hand puppets, an item that will soon be on my MCII. Really, is the puppet upset?

    This is a great idea but I am not eating any bran flakes to prove the point to myself. Wait, well maybe, they might be healthy right? *grins*

  3. Nancy LauzonNancy Lauzon

    You struck a nerve when you mentioned precocious children – I’m reading a book right now that has one, and I’m not happy about it. So that would definitely be on my list.

    I’m actually participating in this year’s NaNoWriMo! I’m hoping to nail down the first draft of my next novel. So if I appear to drop off the face of the earth next month, you’ll know where I really am!

    Have a great weekend!

  4. Janice Heck (@janiceheck)Janice Heck (@janiceheck)

    Yes, I see what you mean. I look on my Kindle and I see a hefty number of Bran Flakes books. Oh well. Just like grammar, BF is good for you.


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