Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Writing With a Formula

Romance writers have heard this all of the time in terms of their writing. When they bring up the fact that they write romance, people will often bring up the term of formula writing. In other words, stories have to be done a certain way or there is no getting published. Now, while there are guidelines, using a formula is not in the equation.

Before I go any further, let me remind you all of what I mean about guidelines. In this case, I like to bring up both literature and music. When we mention Baroque music, there are certain time periods and styles that fit that genre/style. The same goes for classical, post modern and so forth. In terms of literature, we see the same thing - Naturalism, Romanticism, Harlem Renaissance - they all see the same thing.

But does writing in a genre such as this mean that a writer has to follow a forumla? The answer is no. A hero doesn't have to look one way only. The chapters are not broken down in a similar format (Chapt. 1 Heroine, Chapter 2 Hero, Chapter 3 conflict...).

With all of that said, though, I want to look at how a writer can really take a look at their writing with a forumla model. Using a personal formula is a great way to increase your writing speed, do your research faster and certainly, be happier with a lot of the final projects.

Sometimes, when I speak to new writers about creating a story for scratch, they often feel terrified by the process? How do they compose a 75,000 word manuscript from nothing? I create a formula for them. Something to break the process down into simpler ideas and certainly more manageable pieces.

For a 75,000 word manuscript, we start first with chapter breakdowns. Assuming a chapter is roughly 5000 words (not rocket science but a rough estimate), this would mean that the book would have 15 chapters. Once we have this, the writer can then plot out what they want to happen throughout the book.

When a writer plots the story out this way, I then return to the "short story" model that shows everything leading to the climax. You all remember that triangle diagram your 7th grade teachers taught you. Same thing works here. So, if I break down the chapters, I want to know the conflict is established by roughly chapter 3 and the climax and dark moment happening by chapter 10. Chapters 1-3 are for character and situation building, chapters 3-10 deal with rising action and layering, Chapters 10-14 are resolution, chapter 15 is conclusion.

With romantic suspense, you might find that certain chapters are when you insert the villain, or the "mystery clues." With Inspirationals you might have chapters when the transformations happen. It really doesn't matter.

I know this is simple, but I think most writers can create a similar forumla for whatever style writing they do. The key is to create a pattern and stick to it. Eventually, the writing you do will happen naturally. The thought process doesn't have to happen with such difficulty. More importantly, the time you used to spend in planning can now be spent with that wordsmithing and character development you do.

Have fun.



  1. Your discussions never fail to spark my creativity . . . one of the reasons you are a must-read every morning. Thank you for this topic.

    Keep 'em coming!

  2. Good info. Also, can you tell me status of my critique? I'm anxiously awaiting your verdict!! Thanks, Alan K.

  3. I ditto Karen. This post has helped a great deal, I am writing my first, it is an Historical Romance Suspense. You have helped with the organising of my chapters, am off to regroup, thanks.

  4. Alan K.
    Please email me with a phone number. I have sent the critique several times. I think the email is in your spam folder or something. I have replied to your message and sent it from two different email accounts.

    Awaiting your response.