1. Fitzroy Zeph
    Offline

    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2013
    Messages:
    747
    Likes Received:
    269
    Location:
    Canada

    Why not formula writing?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Fitzroy Zeph, Dec 5, 2013.

    There have been several threads as of late where the writers argue against the need to establish a system, or some call it formula, of writing, that makes the story compelling to read. Suggesting do so would inhibit their artistic outpourings. Citing always, some author who apparently broke some or all of the rules and was not only successful but lauded a literary hero for doing so.

    What I see with most rule breakers are people who truly understand their art or business or science and find a unique way to present their image of things to the world that is unique, refreshing and groundbreaking. I see no virtue in being seen as a visionary a hundred years from now having died hungry and broke because no one would look at my art today. Screw that. Typing away, hoping to replicate a work of distinction is not the right approach, IMHO.
     
  2. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,683
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    Write however you want to write, and good luck to you.

    My only beef is with those who present one formula and claim that is the only way to write or to be successful doing so.
     
    VM80, KaTrian and minstrel like this.
  3. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,351
    Likes Received:
    2,891
    Location:
    Boston
    I think there is a deeper issue here. Some writers feel the need to use unique and/or experimental techniques in their works because the techniques that exist aren't adequate. For example, writers in the early 20th century realized that stream of consciousness can show character thoughts in a way that wasn't possible with other literary devices. So the way I see it, trying to establish a system or formula for writing hinders progress and creativity.
     
  4. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    ditto that!
     
  5. Fitzroy Zeph
    Offline

    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2013
    Messages:
    747
    Likes Received:
    269
    Location:
    Canada
    I find this a common and annoying trait among any expert group, whether you are trying to teach a child to read, a grown up to ski, or learn a new language. Someone always has the best way to do it. But they may still have much important information to impart.
     
  6. Okon
    Offline

    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 26, 2013
    Messages:
    694
    Likes Received:
    389
    It's all preference. I strive for 'readability' by never lingering on one detail for too long, and following a rough guideline of what current published writers are having a good time with. Every work has its own subtle voice, and that combined with my own ideas is enough to make it its own.

    Once you've established a safety zone, it's more noticeable and intriguing when you break it, however briefly. And (my opinion only!) it should be very brief.

    I wish all of the new Kerouac's out there the best of luck, though. Stylistic writing will always have a place in the world, and it has gems just like any other form.
     
  7. Burlbird
    Offline

    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 29, 2011
    Messages:
    978
    Likes Received:
    295
    Location:
    Somewhere Else
    One needs to know what he fights against, if he wants to fight against anything at all. A writer who claims to be breaking rules without having a clue what those rules are... well, he might accidentally do something right. But again, he is more likely to be just a spoiled brat who's hardly going to be able to progress with his work, let alone to continue working in the first place, or repeat that accidental success.

    But "formula writing" is another type of crappiness itself. It means that (you think) you managed to master the rules and you are unwilling to take any risks in your work. That's just cowardice: not to mention the fact that you are hardly going to be able to continue doing the same shit over and over and over again without causing your brain-cells to gradually die out.

    No new challenges. No crisis. No risks. No experiments. No doubts. Equals: death.

    Yeah, fact is "formulaic writing" is a derogatory term. But I think there are good reasons for that.
     
    Simpson17866 and thirdwind like this.
  8. Andrae Smith
    Offline

    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2012
    Messages:
    2,506
    Likes Received:
    1,404
    Location:
    Wandering
    ^ this
     
  9. Robert_S
    Offline

    Robert_S Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Aug 25, 2013
    Messages:
    874
    Likes Received:
    163
    When I read a couple books on storycraft, the main points I focused on were: reveals, inciting incident, moral and psychological weakness and need, drives, plans, climax, resolution and equilibrium. Things like that.

    Some others on the net said this or that should happen at this or that mark, but the pros I read made no mention of when they should happen, other than the inciting incident should come before the climax and climax should come before resolution. Such as that.

    Other points Truby and/or McGee made was the idea of passageways (a kind of transition) and ghosts (something nagging at the MC). But neither of these guys said when things should happen, except in relation to other plot points.

    If you're going to do experimental writing, less of this applies, but you'll find these things in almost all stories.
     
    Andrae Smith likes this.
  10. JayG
    Offline

    JayG Banned Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2013
    Messages:
    642
    Likes Received:
    358
    Location:
    Philadelphia PA
    There are no rules and there s no formula. In fact, not one book on writing I've seen suggests there is. In fact, most emphatically say that there are none.

    But they also say what there is a structure to storytelling that is universal, and has been in use since the first storyteller stood before the tribe at the fire. There are things a reader wants to know, and must know, before a given scene can make sense. That's not a set of rules, it's common sense and professional knowledge. And in our primary schooling no one even mentions that there is a unique set of compositional skills for fiction for the printed word, just as there's one for nonfiction, screen and stage writing, and journalism.

    All of our training, through to the end of high school in in techniques designed to inform, not entertain, because most adults entering the job market need them. They're author-centric and inherently dispassionate because they're designed for nonfiction uses, like reports, essays, and correspondence. And it took us twelve years to perfect them to the point where they feel intuitive. The result is that we graduate believing thet writing is writing ands that we've got that part down.

    But what good does all that study and practice do someone who is writing fiction, which is designed to entertain and is both emotion-based and character-centric?

    It's not a matter of following rules, it's a matter of learning the basic compositional techniques the medium requires. Certainly, no one wants to go back to study and assignments, and start from scratch. But we're trying to practice a profession. and anyone who is dumb enough to believe that any profession can be practiced without taking the time to learn the basics is deluding themself. When it comes to the skillset the meduim requires we leave high school with a kindergarten education. Yes we know spelling and grammar, and they're necessary, but what we don't is composition, as it applies to writing fiction for the printed word.

    We want to be thought of as serious about our craft. But how can that become reality if we aren't willing to spend a bit of time and money in acquiring the skills out customers, the publishers, expect us to have.

    This excerpt from Don't Murder Your Mystery contains some really good observations on what a writer needs to know, and the comments by professional editors, alone, is worth the reading.
     
    Simpson17866 and Andrae Smith like this.
  11. Joe309
    Offline

    Joe309 Member

    Joined:
    Mar 1, 2011
    Messages:
    48
    Likes Received:
    17
    Can formula writing be thought of as training wheels for aspiring writers? After a time, they can shed the trainer and ride a two-wheeler without falling (??)
     
    Tesoro and Andrae Smith like this.
  12. A.M.P.
    Offline

    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2013
    Messages:
    2,024
    Likes Received:
    1,125
    Location:
    A Place with no History
    Some author's do have a formula, usually with how the plot rolls or how the characters are.
    They keep rewriting the same type of story over and over just with difference characters, scenes, and major events but can ultimately be boiled down to "same as the other book".

    For some author's it works.
    Usually they probably publish multiple books in a year and people eat them up.
    Like.. Danielle Steele!
     
  13. Tesoro
    Offline

    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 3, 2011
    Messages:
    2,825
    Likes Received:
    290
    Location:
    A place with no future
    Or Nora Roberts.
     
  14. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    or bob ludlum...

    i knew him and his wife mary back in my old life when i lived in westport, ct and entertained quite frequently for the art, literary and theater crowd i was fortunate to live and work among... and i can still see bob standing by my great room's window wall on the mill pond side, with wine glass in hand, telling me he felt no shame in writing what he called his 'pancake' novels... all he had to do, he said, was choose a new series of exotic settings and a new villain, give the hero a new name and new look, et voila, a new ludlum bestseller was on the way!...

    that's the only kind of 'formula' i can see being useful... and then only in the hands of an already well-established master wordsmith who can be counted on to make each 'pancake' an equally enjoyable 'meal' despite them all being formulaic to some extent...
     
  15. Simpson17866
    Offline

    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 23, 2013
    Messages:
    1,704
    Likes Received:
    1,253
    But would formula writing be more acceptable for the Calculus students who can comprehend crazier formulae than can mere mortals? ;)
     
  16. Simpson17866
    Offline

    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 23, 2013
    Messages:
    1,704
    Likes Received:
    1,253
    (bad connection, double post, please delete :( )
     
  17. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    No. Quite the opposite.

    I love Calculus, and Differential Equations too, but I don't favor formulaic writing.
     
  18. KaTrian
    Offline

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2013
    Messages:
    5,564
    Likes Received:
    3,561
    Location:
    The Great Swamp
    This.

    I don't mind people telling me why I should've done something like this or that, but I'd also appreciate some other 'why' than "This book said so!" or "they said so in this article!"

    Like others have said, it's beneficial to learn the structures and techniques of story-telling and then break them if it feels like breaking them serves the story or if it just feels right.

    That doesn't mean I'd tell the character's plan and then write it happen without a hitch. But I might do something differently than what the pros suggest. And I really don't know all the rules anyway, so I'm unintentionally breaking them all the time. Live and learn...
     
  19. Robert_S
    Offline

    Robert_S Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Aug 25, 2013
    Messages:
    874
    Likes Received:
    163
    Actually, the character's plan should not happen without a hitch. One story writer's quote: if your hero is dying for a drink of water, throw everything at them except water.
     
    JayG likes this.
  20. KaTrian
    Offline

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2013
    Messages:
    5,564
    Likes Received:
    3,561
    Location:
    The Great Swamp
    I think you missed my point. I was trying to come up with an example of some basic "rule" I wouldn't break for the sake of breaking, even. Like:
    -If you tell the plan, the reader knows it's gonna go wrong
    -if you don't tell the plan, it's likely to succeed, but the reader doesn't know what it is so there's the excitement of finding out
     
  21. Robert_S
    Offline

    Robert_S Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Aug 25, 2013
    Messages:
    874
    Likes Received:
    163
    I'm not aware of those rules. I'm not sure how much they come into play in screenwriting, but those weren't showcased in any of the two books I've read so far.
     
    Tesoro likes this.
  22. Fitzroy Zeph
    Offline

    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2013
    Messages:
    747
    Likes Received:
    269
    Location:
    Canada
    Like so much of life, learning the first 80% of whatever it is you need to know, to be good at something, is a real bitch. Not just pretty good, but good. I'm thinking writing fiction is one of the tougher ones. The last 20% being more or less impossible. How do you teach someone to be composer? I have a composer friend but never talked to him much about his actual education. Next time I see him I'll do that. Whatever it is, I'll bet he learned tons of musical formulae to get to where he called himself a composer. That is taking all that and creating a new piece that the masses would find not only listenable but highly emotive.

    It's a clear indication of my status as neophyte writer that I pose a question, as I did regarding formula writing, not realizing the negative connotations that it carries. It's seems clear enough to me that there are an infinite range of sentences I could construct of which the far majority would be crap. Perhaps grammatically correct, but crap never the less, as far as forming a cohesive, entertaining story is concerned. So how do I toss the chaff and get down to forming at least the basis of a good story? Me thinks, like a good sentence, there is way more than one way to do it. So I think to myself, why wouldn't I try to at least follow the most basic rules, if there is such a thing, and there does seem to be, it order to get a basic understanding of story structure, if that's the right word, structure.

    I'm not think shortcuts; I'm think actual paths to success. A fewest stupid mistakes method.
     
  23. KaTrian
    Offline

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2013
    Messages:
    5,564
    Likes Received:
    3,561
    Location:
    The Great Swamp
    That's 'cause it's common sense :D

    I just used the example when I mentioned that some suggestions and rules can be intentionally broken, but I still wouldn't break some basic rules for the sake of breaking them.

    And in all fairness, sometimes the author/screen writer divulges the plan and then it goes almost according to it, but something unexpected happens. I was watching Battlestar Galactica (2004 series) last night for the umpteenth time. The writer had decided to tell the plan to the viewer (how to blow up a cylon resurrection ship) and it almost worked, except the person who planted the nuke got bombed and was left adrift in space.
     
  24. Robert_S
    Offline

    Robert_S Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Aug 25, 2013
    Messages:
    874
    Likes Received:
    163
    For my story, I intend to actually not give the MC what he wants. He's going to fall to prevent the big event and all he can do is to kill the precipitants, but it's the only way to prevent an even greater tragedy.
     

Share This Page