She sat down on a free bench and flipped through her new copy of No Plot? No Problem. The front page must have stuck to the cover during the first flipthrough, for Mia spotted something handwritten on the first page this time that she could have sworn wasn’t there last time. She opened the book to the first page.
And saw something scribbled there.
“Keep writing! The world needs your stories. Chris Baty”
Mia gasped. Chris Baty. He touched this book. He signed it with a pen and ink in his own handwriting. Mia held it up to the sky to ensure its legitimacy, and it passed her test. She ran her finger over the autograph. That was definitely handwriting.
There was hope. Somewhere in Wrimonia there was hope for finding Chris Baty. Mia hugged the book to herself before flipping to the introduction.
“The era, in retrospect, was very kind to dumb ideas,” Mia read, and she continued reading about the first five years of NaNoWriMo, how Wrimonia proper wasn’t formed until 2002 and the first few years of NaNoWriMo had a community built out of local coffee shops and online mailing lists. Then Wrimonia came to be, starting out as a small area carved out and expanding as more writers came in and the community grew. Mia saw the result over ten years later, and she had a feeling that Chris Baty would never have expected this in 1999. A Reference Desk as big as an airport terminal? WrimoRails? What a wonderful and magical place that would only improve over time.
Mia kept reading and reached the first section. The first three chapters were mostly things she had experienced before in the past three NaNos, but they were still handy things to know. The Time Finder was a particularly useful exercise, and Mia made a note to practice the Time Finder over the next few days in a hope to figure out where to squeeze in NaNo. There was a list of novels about the length of a NaNoWriMo novel (including No Plot? No Problem! itself). This was something she heard NaNo critics discuss: fifty thousand words wasn’t a real novel. It was too short. But Mia studied enough short novels and novellas in school to know better.
Then Mia reached chapter four and found the exercise in the two Magna Cartas. Mia remembered hearing about the Magna Carta, but her knowledge of that era in history was shoddy at best. Wasn’t it signed in 1066, though? She remembered correcting a professor about that fact once. Sometimes trivia bits are useful.
“What, to you, makes a good novel?” the book asked.
Mia set the book down. What did make a good novel?
The truth was that despite the many books she had read and analyzed and yes, the two she had written, Mia had never put much thought to this question. I should have a good answer to this by now, Mia thought. Or at least an answer that’s better than none at all.
The problem was that Mia had none at all that she could scribble into her notebook. She found a notebook and pencil in her bag and opened the notebook. Then she started doodling.
She was never the best artist, but she could doodle decently enough, or at least pretend to. Mia scribbled some marks on the paper before turning back to the question at hand. What made a good novel, anyway? She read the rest of the segment and thought of her favorite books. What made them so meaningful, so powerful, so… well, good?
A lot of those books featured strong characters, Mia realized, so that went down. Smart writing, but not in the pretentious way. Relatable characters who are a wee bit quirky. Prose that gets to the point about what’s going on. Books set in large cities or foreign countries.
Mia kept thinking of more things and kept scribbling things down. Eventually she had a decent-sized list and decided to stop. She read Chris Baty’s list, surprised at how similar some of their items were, and turned the page. She then kept reading.
“For the second list, write down those things that bore or depress you in novels.” Oh, this would be an easy one, Mia thought. She could think of so many things that she hated reading in a book, and she scribbled things down right away. Purple prose. Killing off characters with no good reason to. Dialogue where it’s not clear who’s saying what. Paragraph after paragraph of shit she didn’t care about. Novels set in Africa. (She didn’t mean this to sound racist or… culturalist? But Mia did think back to books she put down halfway through or plowed through to the end because she had to, and an alarming number of them did in fact take place in Africa.) Books that take place on a stranded island. On and on and on she went, noticing that she could go on about this for a long time. After filling up the page Mia stopped and compared the two lists. It was clear that she had a type of book she liked, and according to No Plot? No Problem! Mia needed to write that kind of book.
But as Mia looked at the second list she made, she realized something. A lot of the things on the second list, the Magna Carta II, were in her novel last year! How did that happen? That shouldn’t have happened. While Mia thought about what did appear in her novel, everything became clear to her. She was trying to write a more serious novel than those of her past two years (and those novels were serious compared to what some Wrimos were writing), so Mia put everything in her novel that could be considered serious. A location in Africa, lit fic, deep struggles with societal norms and gender issues, a realization, lots of purple prose. And she hated writing every minute of it.
Maybe that was why she quit during week two.
No, this year was going to be different, even if Chris Baty wasn’t here. She reached a paragraph toward the end of the section on the Magna Cartas: “When thinking about possible inclusions for your novel, always grab the guilty pleasures over the bran flakes. Write your joy, and good things will follow.”
Mia smiled. She underlined that last sentence and closed the book. Despite a lack of ideas, she now felt a lot better about her lack of progress plotwise.
As Mia headed back to the forum in search of inspiration, she clutched the copy of No Plot? No Problem. Somewhere in Wrimonia, possibly hidden from everyone, was Chris Baty. After all, he signed her book and brought that little piece of him back to Wrimonia.
But where was he now?
Mia finally read No Plot? No Problem!
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