East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

The formula


This morning I spent a few minuted talking with a friend and colleague about a book he has abandoned halfway through and about which I never went beyond the Amazon preview. In about of self-assuredness, I mentioned the fact that a book like that I can write in two weekends. Which was not meant literally, but close to it. Let’s say I can crank out ten thousand words a day – two weekends, starting on Friday evening, would mean 50.000/60.000 words in two weekends.
Nice and smooth.

I mentioned this to another friend, about half an hour ago – she’s writing a series, and she was taking a break, and we exchanged a few messages. The point of the discussion was – the time-consuming part is not typing (and she’s a much faster typist than I am), but coming up with good ideas.
Ideas about plot twists, character traits and interactions, ideas about dialogue.
Good ideas and the research to stimulate and back them are the critical point, and they are time consuming.

A lot of genre fiction is formula fiction – you can outline the basic heroic fantasy plot on a post it, and it fits a shelf-load of books. It’s basically fill-in-the-blanks.
Or, rather, it is if the writer does not strive to put something else in. The aforementioned ideas, and the research thereof.

I often complain about imaginative fiction devoid of imagination. And I usually blame this fact on the tendency many budding genre writers have, to read only their genre. It’s pretty hard to have new ideas if all you read is the same sort of stuff that you write.
But there is another factor: if you have read enough genre fiction and you don’t want to bother inventing anything new, writing a story turns into a pretty fast job. It’s basically a matter of typing.

Which leaves a very big question open. A number of questions, actually, these being…
What of the editor?
What of the publisher?
What of the reviewers?
What of the readers?
Are they all fine with yet another standard, paint-by-numbers, formula novel?

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

5 thoughts on “The formula

  1. There is a market for predictable stories, just like there is a market for fast food and pop music. Sometimes I don’t want to be challenged intellectually, I just want to veg out and not have to think. Personally, I’m more likely to turn to video rather than fiction for my comfort media, but there is a lot to be said for curling up with formula fiction.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree, but it has to be GOOD formula fiction.
      To me the problem is not the formula in itself, but the fact that the writer puts nothing in the story that I haven’t seen five thousand times before.


  2. “Are they all fine with yet another standard, paint-by-numbers, formula novel?”

    It may just be my imagination, but I’ve noticed over the years that if a writer is thinking along the lines of a series of novels, as long as your first entry is outside the lines/unique and does well sales-wise, it’s amazing that thereafter, not only is the editor/publisher more than happy for the rest of the series to be formulaic, but that they seem to get absolutely apoplectic if you deviate from the formula.

    Go figure?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, some publishers hate taking risks.
      You get told “The first novel was a lucky accident, now let’s do more of the same, but more traditional.”
      It happened, ehm… to a friend of mine.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. LOL!!


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