SYWTBAW: The “Formula”

"So, romance has a formula, right?"

"They're all the same story over and over, after all. Boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back."

Simple. Sure.

"So, what is that formula?" asks the novice writer aspiring toward their first book. "Can you send me the outline that will get me published?"

The answer comes in two very succinct and rather rude words. The shorter and more polite version of that is NO.

Because romance authors hate the word formula. "Formula" implies a rigorous set of instructions that have a magical answer at its end. The answer is "Happily Ever After", but the HEA is never the same twice. No, don't say marriage is always the same, or miracle babies with CEO sheikh cowboys are always the same.

Every story is different. Period. They may have the same-looking results, may even take similar steps along the journey, but those journeys--in essence, the story--are different for every character because every character is different.

Think of it like a long car ride with you, your sibling and your parents. Each of you has their own thoughts, feelings, experiences. Each of you perceives that car ride in a different way. I can tell you that the "formula" for your ride is taking the highway route north until the 64 exit and making a left. You'll all get there, but along the way, what is going on in your minds? What happens at the pit stop? You all end up in the same place at the very end of that ride, but you did not all get there with the exact same perceptions of that ride.

"But there has to be a formula," the novice writer says. "I learned it from my high school writer's craft class."

Oh, you mean the hero's journey? Or are you talking about the structure of a plot? Or are you talking about the different kinds of story types?

Okay, yeah, sure, I suppose those are "formulas." But Luke Skywalker and Dorothy Gale did not have the same movie, did they?

"Well, they sort of did."

Sure they did.

"Why are you being difficult?"

Because in seeking the magic "formula" you are dismissing your own ability to tell a story in search of a shortcut. You think that by putting tab A into slot B, you'll have all you need for that award-winning, New York Times bestseller. You think all you have to do is lead your character by the nose through all the hoops and your tale will be a surefire win.

It doesn't work that way. You can't write in a vacuum. I can say "approaching the innermost cave" as much as I want, but until you've made it there with your own characters, or read enough books that you can understand when the MCs have reached that point, you will probably stare at me and wonder if I'm coming on to you.

What does work is writing the way you write and then learning about "the formula" in books, workshops, classes, the internet, from your fellow writers so that you start to understand why your story meanders all over the place, or why it's so boring in the middle, or why no one's satisfied in the end, or why everyone seems to hate your hero or heroine. Read books. Watch movies. You have probably already perceived the structure. It will be easier to understand when you're trying to get through it yourself.

You can't know how to write unless you write. And no matter how much you plan and plot and outline, stories have a way of surprising you, of running off like a hyperactive three-year-old brandishing a hammer. When you get to those moments, or when that three-year-old has suddenly disappeared from sight and you start panicking, that is when you pull out your map, retrace your steps and figure out where that kid might have gone and where he's headed now.

So yes, there's a formula. There are steps every hero takes in his quest. But the formula is not on a piece of paper, or a single website. You can't recite it as though it's the formula for measuring Energy.

"So...what's the formula?"

Oh, for crying out loud...HERE. HERE IT IS. ENJOY.


2 thoughts on “SYWTBAW: The “Formula”

  1. Love the posting. Your sense of humour once again shines through and the Story Telling Table is perfect. But seriously, isn't there just a fill in the blanks form I can use? (Kidding, I know how hard that writing really is!)


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