Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Writing a Novel: Is There a Formula?

Is There a Formula For Writing Novels?

Guest post by Diane Harrison

Do you ever wonder what's in the mind of a fiction writer?

Is there a secret formula, do they follow a set path when writing?

Are they really as creative as we think they are?

As an avid fiction reader I sometimes wonder what is going through the mind of an author, good or bad.

I guess we've all read novels that feel similar to ones we've read before, the settings and characters are probably different, but somehow you feel you've seen it all too often. A crime committed, a detective, a suspect, a hero and his sidekick, it doesn't matter that it's set in space with aliens,  in a fantasy realm, or even here on our planet, something just shines through and tells our minds that it's not fresh.  It takes a great author to "rewrite" A STORY THAT'S BEEN TOLD TO DEATH.

When new wannabe writers join writing classes are they given a template that clearly states how many characters, what type of characters, plots, turns and twists, how many "red herrings" are allowed. Sometimes I believe that to be true.

As a reader is that what we want? Is it our mind that needs the comfort of knowing, do we just read, waiting for the next clue, not really bothered with it because at the end we'll know "whodunit".

What would happen if we broke the mould? Would our minds decide not to read it, tell us that it's rubbish and throw it away as if it were full of germs? Maybe it's just too challenging for our tired brains to follow? Too many red herrings, too many characters and we shut down, switch off and pack up...

Do some authors know how much we can take before we crash, while others are oblivious and believe the more they give us, the more we'll love them.

In my opinion some authors have a tendency to overdeliver, they use every word in the dictionary, cover us with flowery and picturesque scenes, metaphors dance before our eyes, trying so hard to seduce our minds. They try to capture us with their literary genius and their creative genes, only to fall flat on their faces, when critics kick the chair from under them.

Does this mean that we want and need a formula?

I don't know if there is a formula for fiction novels, but if there is, I'm sure it isn't set in stone, don't you think it's capable of being stretched?

As a reader I want to be astounded, amazed, I want to feel sick to my stomach, I want to feel the blood rushing through my veins, feel the passion, but most of all I want to use my imagination.

The best and most creative fiction writers in my mind are the ones that leave out all the good stuff. They draw an outline, fill in the most important pieces and leave the rest to me, leave it to my imagination to connect the dots. Much like a child's colouring book. I don't need to know everything about the main character, just give me a few tidbits and I'll paint my own picture.

"In the simplest of words you can find the greatest joy, if you use your imagination."

Please visit Novels To Read and learn more about Diane, what she's reading and why. Join in the Novel Talk.


  1. I don't know about formula, but there are traditions in the way stories are told, and this perpetuates itself, because the more we become accustomed to a particular way of hearing/reading stories, the more we come to expect it next time. We probably write to this method without realising it because the rhythm and patterns have become second nature from all the stories we've shared growing up.

    Some stories do break away from tradition and sometimes those are embraced as brilliant and other times rejected as just too strange.

    I think it is like all the 'rules' to writing, if you know them well enough, you can break them. If you trust your instincts and write to the style that you would enjoy reading, then you're probably on the right track.
    Great post, really got me pondering :-)

  2. like the post, but perhaps you may want to change "Is There a Formula For Writing Fiction Novels?" to "Is There a Formula For Writing Novels?" since all novels are, like, fiction...

  3. There's no formula for writing a novel, but some things work and some things don't. You can follow a set of guidelines, or you can discover the right balance through trial and error. All art forms require balance. In fiction, plot has to be balanced with subplot. Description has to be balanced with character experience. Action has to be balanced with reflection. Having a set of guidelines flattens the learning curve, but every author is unique. There are no rules (to quote the title of Jane Friedman's blog).


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