Monday, November 07, 2005

Formula Writing

Doesn’t the word ‘formula’ make you think of math? And science? Should it really be used to describe romance novels? I don’t think so, and I prefer not to think about romance in general in such terms, but it seems that’s the norm if you want to run with the heavyweights. (Here I’m referring to romance authors). I never would have realized this if I weren’t currently working on an article for the Romance Writers Report, but apparently a lot of romance authors got their start by dissecting the works of their favorite authors. I’m not simply referring to generalities, such as what kind of opening hooks work or what’s a good ratio of action to dialogue…I’m talking about detailed breakdowns.

How many pages before the heroine and hero cross paths?

How many scenes are devoted to the romance before the pair realizes it’s not going to work out?

How many secondary characters before it gets confusing?

How many points of view can the reader (and the author) handle without bobbling?

Where exactly does the ‘Dark Moment’ fall in the grand scheme of things? And what is dramatic and significant enough to even be considered a ‘Dark Moment’.

Questions like these were answered and analyzed before some authors began their own projects. They absorbed their findings, tweaked them, and made them work in their own unique way. Maybe that’s what I should have done. As I mentioned in a previous post, I just wanted to write. I didn’t dissect my favorite romances. I knew what I liked was good writing, a spicy romance, a few surprises, great dialogue, and a sound storyline. So I just started. With more of that research I mention above, I probably could have improved the pacing, upped the action, eliminated some unnecessary bits, and dedicated more pages to secondary characters as I was writing. But at the same time, I think I would have gotten bogged down in the technicalities. After all, it’s hard enough to face a blank page everyday without referencing a spreadsheet to find out what should be happening, based on the formula.

I personally think chick-lit is exploring some fresh and inventive deviations. It seems like you’re not held so much to the formula if you write ‘women’s fiction’, whether it’s humorous, snarky, or totally serious. And I think that’s what makes chick-lit so interesting—you never know what’s going to happen. It doesn’t follow a formula, and sometimes it doesn’t even follow the rules! And yet it works.

But then again, sometimes you’re sacrificing the true romance, so that’s a definite trade-off.

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