Is There Such A Thing As A Writing Formula?

By on December 25, 2019

It is generally agreed that writing is a skill, which means that it can be taught, and those who commit themselves to understand the craft fully can hope to improve. That’s not to say that raw talent doesn’t play a part, as it does in most things. However, good writers take many forms; some may be effortlessly (and a little annoyingly) blessed with genes that make them good writers without even trying. Others can apply themselves to learning, practicing, and refining and get good at writing that way.

However, when it comes to using formulas to write, can this really produce results that readers will love? The answer to this is somewhat complicated. 

Some writers would argue that within every genre, you can see formulas being used. Indeed, the rules of a genre combined with the expectations of the reader have led there to be almost mathematical ways of presenting stories. But can these ensure readers remain interested and do those who choose not to employ these formulas put themselves at a disadvantage? Successful crime fiction authors, for example, often create stories using a pattern, to ensure that all critical points of tension and revelation are hit, but it is not all they have to do to guarantee success.

Other writers would say that more generic writing formulas also work, and of course, there are many out there. The three-act formula is a well-known example. The first act is the setup, where the main characters are introduced, and the setting is revealed. Then in the second act comes the confrontation. This makes up the central part of the story and is where the protagonist meets the obstacles that could prevent them from achieving their goal, and these obstacles will get tougher and the stakes higher as the story progresses. In the third act comes the resolution where the obstacles will usually be overcome, and the main character achieves their goal but has changed significantly because of the journey they took to get there. 

The hero’s journey by Joseph Campbell, is a 17-step formula that many writers use to break down the events in their book and carefully map out each stage of the adventure. Campbell's formula helps them better understand how the story will develop while ensuring they are meeting key milestones along the way. 

 Freytag’s Pyramid: Five-Act Structure arose after a 19th Century German novelist analyzed stories from greek mythology and Shakespeare and saw consistent patterns in them. 

There are too many writing formulas that a writer could choose to follow to go into detail about in this post. The point, however, is that while methods do exist and can be employed in any story, it cannot be by following a formula alone that a novel will be great. Formulas must be used to guide writers who need guidance. Still, it is through creativity, excellent writing, understanding the reader, and studying the craft of writing in its entirety that a writer can hope to produce a great book. Formulas are helpful, yes, but they are not shortcuts, and writers mustn’t view them as such.

Do you use formulas to help you write? Share your experiences below!

bethany cadman
Bethany Cadman - bethanycadman.co.uk

About Bethany Cadman

Bethany Cadman is an author and freelance writer. Her highly anticipated debut novel 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers' is available on Amazon as both an eBook and a paperback. You can find it here - http://tinyurl.com/z47t8qf

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