The structure of every story follows the pattern of the average human emotional experience. That pattern is the same, whether it’s a first kiss, eating a chocolate bar, having sex, or reading a full-length novel. Hollywood scriptwriters have found this pattern, follow it, and often make great heaps of money for their producers by doing so.
But how does this help the novel writer? We’re all much more “seat of the pants,” aren’t we? Creative, innovative, never following the crowd? Well, yes, we all have an intuitive grasp of the idea, or we wouldn’t be writers. But my experience is that a formula helps you most when you discover you’ve screwed up. Be as creative as you want, but when you finish your first draft and discover it’s flat, boring, and takes too long to get anywhere, what do you do? You go to the formula to see what you missed. Because it will be there.
The idea of formulas in writing always makes my nose wrinkle. Because to me, formula means repetition…and repetition in writing could very well lead to boredom. Have you ever had that? Followed an author you’ve loved for years only to find that by their tenth or fifteenth book you can finish it for them, because you already know how they roll and what they’re going to do with their characters?
That always frustrates me, and as a writer I have tried my very best not to fall into this trap. That’s partly why I write in a variety of genres. I never want to be thought of as the author who regurgitates the same old stuff.
But the truth is…there are formulas in writing and whether we like that fact or not, we must accept it, because the right formula can make for a brilliant book, just like the wrong formula can make for pages of drivel.
[This article is part of a series by author Lin Robinson on the subject of so-called “rules” of writing. You can find the other articles here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.]
In this series I have mostly dealt with negative “rules” — adjurations to avoid the use of various parts of English speech that are perfectly useful.
In this final article I’d like to switch to debunking several “positive” kinds of “rules”: concepts which are urged, even pressed onto writers as necessary, but which I’d suggest you drop not just from you tool kit, but from your vocabulary.
The Myth Of “The Protagonist” — One of the most repeated and most utterly useless concepts for writers is “protagonist”. It’s a word that does absolutely nothing for you, and can mess you up. Perhaps you’ve seen newbies wailing, “Can I have more than one protagonist?” (And in screenplay circles, sometimes get answers like “OK, if it’s a ‘buddy movie'”, or “OK if it’s an ‘ensemble’ movie”, otherwise no. How about love stories. Do you really have to make one of the pair the main show and the other one subsidiary? How about a story of two rivals? But they’ll tell you that you have to because that’s the way it is and who are you to argue with Aristotle? Continue reading “Breaking the “Rules” Part 5 by Lin Robinson“