I came across an interesting article this week entitled, ” The Great Novel-Writing Checklist” and it occurred to me that I might be doing things wrong. So, I thought I’d put the question to my readers and get their feedback on the topic. Do you enjoy reading books using formula writing?
OK, before we can get a discussion going, we need to have an agreement about the terms “formula writing” and “structured writing”.
Peter Winkler wrote about formula writing for Huffington Post.He says formula writing is a:
magical, alchemical recipe for creating a bestseller
Various authors and academics have tried to discern this formula over the years, mainly by finding commonalities between bestselling books. For instance, in 1990, John Baldwin came up with this list of components for formula writing a medical thriller:
- The hero is an expert.
- The villain is an expert.
- You must watch all of the villainy over the shoulder of the villain.
- The hero has a team of experts in various fields behind him, etc.
- Two or more on the team must fall in love.
- Two or more on the team must die.
- The villain must turn his attentions from his initial goal to the team.
- The villain and the hero must live to do battle again in the sequel.
- All deaths must proceed from the individual to the group: i.e., never say that the bomb exploded and 15,000 people were killed. Start with “Jamie and Suzy were walking in the park with their grandmother when the earth opened up.”
- If you get bogged down, just kill somebody.
We all know authors who do formula writing [and their names will not be mentioned here to protect my life]. The first few books are great, but, after that, they become too predictable and, to me, boring.
Contrast formula writing with structured writing.
In structured writing, rather than a prescription to guide the actions, there are checklists to guide development. My guess is that these precepts fill most of the content of creative writing class–although I’m not a good judge having only taken one such class many years ago.
Rather than a formula to guide characters and plot, structured writing relies more heavily on successful structures. Here is what I gleaned from reading the Checklist article cited at the beginning of this post.
You need a structure in 3 acts.
- The first act (1-25%- setup) contains a hook, the first inciting event, a build up, and the first plot point
- The second act (25-75%- conflict) contains a reaction to the first plot point, first pinch point, realization, midpoint, action, second pinch point, and renewed push
- The third act (75-100%- conflict resolution) contains the third plot point, recovery, climax begins, confrontation, climactic moment, and resolution.
You’ll also need character arcs including goals, growth, and inner conflict. Your theme and settings are also instrumental in achieving a good story.
My take on formula writing
I’ve never been one for formulas. You can check out my first 3 novels and tell me whether you agree or not.
Oddly, I find myself torn between feeling extremely grateful for having found the rules of storytelling vs. feeling strangled by them. There was freedom in ignorance, when I would write for hours, losing myself in painting pictures with my prose, delighting in a clever exchange between characters, or making myself cry with a deeply poignant scene.
But nowadays I don’t seem to trust my instincts at all anymore, so I’m stopping before I even start. On those rare, wonderful days when I get so lost in my literary world that I finally start falling in love with writing again, I’ll “wake up” and discover the whole scene has to be scrapped because I need an inciting event or pinch point scene more.
Although I think structured writing is preferable to formula writing, I don’t consciously do it. I think that successful authors, who are, of necessity, voracious readers, inherently build in things like conflict and character arcs simply emulating books they’ve read and loved.
What are your thoughts?
Latest news from Angela Hausman, Author
So, things are moving at a brisk pace. In addition to attending the Scars of the Past Launch party, we have lots of exciting things going on.
- Azure’s Revenge, the 3rd book in the Dark Web series, published on Black Friday. You’ll get to see many of your old friends from Books 1 and 2, and meet some quirky (and sinister) new ones. I’d love to get more readers and reviews for this book.
- Book 4, which is currently untitled, is well underway. It carries on the tradition of having the FBI cyber unit work to save the country from death and destruction. If you’d like to read some of this, simply subscribe or check out his page for the latest chapters released.
- If you’ve already purchased (or received a gifted copy) of Buried Ladies or Scars of the Past, please consider writing an honest review (use the links below). And, if you didn’t like it, please send me specific comments so I can improve the next book. If you don’t have a copy yet, you can buy them here: