|What does this Magic Mike promotional picture have to do with formula fiction, you ask? Well, it's because there's also a formula at play here. No shirt + abs X 5= me first in line at the movies on Friday. You see? It was necessary.|
And now, a question I received recently from a lovely blog follower (who also just happens to be a great friend of mine!):
Here's a topic I would like to read about on your blog: what is your take on having a "formula" as a writer?
I think Jodi Picoult is a great writer; however, if I read one more of her books I will likely vomit. There is always a controversy (fine), a lawyer, a court case AND a side love story --- ugh!
Emily Giffen ALWAYS sets her books in NYC, at least one character is a lawyer, and another with a fat bank account. I enjoy the story but I can't say I always look forward to the next novel (which comes out soon btw!)
Seeing as you will likely write MORE fabulous books and your blog followers are writers as well, I want some answers!
Good question, P! Hmm. What is my opinion on this? And more importantly, how do I convey it tactfully?
I know! I’ll quote a bunch of other authors discussing the subject!
Author Kelly Armstrong:
“Commercial fiction is often dismissed as formulaic. The authors—writing a book or more a year—are clearly just whipping them off, with no attention to quality. It’s true that there are those in every profession who are simply punching the clock—putting in time until they can retire. That applies to writing as well. Some have hit on the formula that works and they stick to it. They’re making a living and they’re happy. But in my experience, those writers are in the minority. Most of us are constantly stretching. We learn from reading and evaluating other novels. We take courses to improve our weaknesses. We seek out new critique partners and editors to help us grow. We may not aspire to write literary fiction, but we do aspire to write better fiction. We love what we do and hope to retain that passion for as long as possible, which means growing and changing as our careers progress.”
And also a bit of this, from literary agent Sarah LaPolla :
“Big blockbuster novels are like big blockbuster movies - high concept plot, not a whole lot of character development, and maybe some sexy times. It's "entertainment for the masses," but is it bad? Not even a little bit…”
“Creating entertainment for the masses is still an art form, and being able to write commercially is a hard skill to acquire. Not all talented writers are able to hit all the right notes in their market the way a commercial writer can. A few of these Big Novels aren't well-written though. I won't pretend they are.”
A couple of smart ladies, those two. (God, I’m a lazy ass!)
So to answer my friend’s question more directly—no, I wouldn’t use a formula. But I also can’t really frown on someone as successful as Jodi Picoult or Emily Giffen who might. Firstly, because I’ve only read one Jodi Picoult novel and none of Giffen’s to be able to properly judge, and secondly because, hey, people are buying their books in droves so they’re obviously doing something right!
So, fellow authors: what’s your take on formula fiction?