Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Can you have glory without the guts?

I'm always on the lookout for a good horror novel.  What can I say? I love that tingle up my spine, that freaked out, walking down a dark hall and something's behind me feeling.  A few months ago I stumbled on a new horror novelist and I was so excited.  I checked out all of her books and read them one right after another bam, bam, bam. 

I liked the books. I was entertained and suitably freaked out by them, but I felt like there was something lacking.  I couldn't figure it out.  They had all the makings of a good book, a sympathetic and relatable protagonist, quirky or interesting supporting characters, great setting, high stakes, a no holds barred climax and a good ending. Somehow, though, they still left me feeling flat.

Recently, I came across this horror author's blog.  After reading some of her posts I realized what it was that was missing from her writing.  Technically, her books are near perfect, written to an exact formula (literally, she has the formula on her blog) to give her readers the most bang for their buck.  I could tell this woman had spent a great deal of time studying the science of crafting a good story.  However, I think in her search for writing glory she left the guts of her books by the side of the road.  By corseting her writing into this formula for literary success, there was no spontaneity in her plot, no room for the characters to become their own person and take the story to new and interesting places, no place where she allowed her creativity to take her and the reader off the beaten path.  Doing those things takes guts because it's scary not to know precisely where your book is going to go, whether it's going to come out right or if you're going to have to go back and delete 75 pages (and waste countless hours of writing effort) because you allowed a secondary character to rip the plot out of your hands and run with it.  It takes courage and a touch of insanity to allow that to happen, but I think those moments are the ones that have the potential to make a book shine.

This was my take on the whole situation, but I'd be interested to know what you guys think.  Have any of you had a similar experience? Or do you think following a formula is the best way to write a book?


Old Kitty said...

I have to admit that I did love the Mills & Boon formula when I was pre-teen! And (whisper) Barbara Cartland. Ahem. Very formula. Oh but I know I'd have worried if they ever diverged! LOL! So I guess formula in that sense works for this type of genre. I mean we're talking a brand here rather than individual writers.

I guess there are lots of leeways in formulaic writing. I would hope so! I mean having a beginning, middle and an end in that order is a sort of formula? Or do I know what I;m talking about?!LOL!

Off the top of my head, I'm thinking of Beloved by Toni Morrison. That was quite an individualistic take on literary fiction. I think there's a chapter there where the reader is taken into Beloved's thoughts and the words are spaced out in block form - it was such a surreal read.

Now I am just rambling! LOL! I think I'm saying for me, I like to have a framework to work freely within.

Take care

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Yeah I really don't like formula's either. I used to read mystery novels by a certain author, but then they all seemed the same so I stopped reading them. The only book that I ended up liking of hers was the one that didn't fit the formula exactly.

Its good to know generally what you want to happen, but it needs to be true to the characters. Not all personalities will react the same to each situation, so unique characters should lead you in unique ways.

as Lynda said on WIP It:
In the first draft stage we should write with reckless abandon

Like you said, if you end up having to delete a few chapters later at least you let it flow organically for a more honest story.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Formulas work for some writers because they aren't passionate about the formula itself, but passionate about the story they are writing.