Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Word Witch Wednesday - balancing formula and originality


This is a battle I've been thinking a lot about lately. Readers want familiarity. Give them their favorite types of genre books with the same formula. Readers also want originality. Something they've never seen before. Giving readers both? It can be done, but it's tough.

Formula - Most publishers will have a sheet on what you're supposed to have in a book in a given genre. For example, paranormal romance (PNR) requires a dual point of view from the heroine and hero, minimum 80% (with some publishers it's 90%) of the plot must have the hero and heroine together, the male must be an alpha, the heroine must kick butt, the key to the climax must hinge on their romance, and it must have a happily ever after or a happily for now ending.

With the formula, I feel like I'm reading the same two or three books over and over again. It's not enjoyable. Every now and then, I'll come across something different within the formula and it will rekindle my love for the genre. But as a reader, the formula is ruining my enjoyment of PNR.

It just isn't in this one genre. I've heard the same complaint about other genres, especially young adult (YA) and romance. The thing is these three genres I've mentioned are the best selling genres in the market.

Originality - Many publishers will not take a chance on a book that isn't written to their formula. Thank goodness for self-publishing! It is in indie books that I see more original tales. Yet sometimes I feel as if these stories are lacking something or wondering what the heck was that!

Making it in the indie world is hard work. Yet there is a lot of fabulous original material out there. Why aren't they selling better? Because readers want the comfort of the formula... while complaining they want something new.
 
The trick is then to give them both. But how?
 
I don't have the secret to that. I can only share what I've been doing. With formula, you can easily Google story structure for any genre and find hundreds of links. If you're aiming for a particular publisher, be certain you know what they want.

Here are some tips for adding originality into the formula:
- stick to the standard main plot but write twisty subplots
- choose a little known mythology to base your story on
- twist the clichés of your genre (e.g. the heroine isn't an orphan but a well loved daughter in a big family)
- have something familiar combined with something new (e.g. a greedy dragon stealing treasure from castles is really a scaly Robin Hood)
- write one main character off trope be it the hero, the love interest, the sidekick, or villain

How do you feel about formula writing? Do you have any tips to add to help make a story original?

32 comments:

  1. Hi Christine - I definitely do not like to read the same formulaic type book from an author ... somehow I personally need to make my work (not to say I have any books out there) ... but stand out from the crowd. However some people are happy to read formulaic works ... great ideas here - cheers Hilary

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    1. Thanks, Hilary. I need to make my work stand out too. It's tough, though.

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  2. There's a formula I'm supposed to follow? Well, crap...
    I've read a couple thrillers lately that were formula. Enough that I won't be picking up the next book.

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    1. I've been coming across so many books written strictly to formula lately. It's driving me a little batty!

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  3. It's a tight rope to walk. It's the little twists that will make a story stand out.

    I hope the paranormal stories I'm working on twist those formulas up a bit.

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    1. That it is. Good luck with your paranormals!

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  4. I think it's important to have the right balance between formula and originality. However, that's much easier said than done.

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  5. I probably should put more study into learning more about formula per genre, especially the one I write in. I recently was checking Amazon for the genre I think my story is BUT don't find anything quite like what I am IMO, so maybe I am not classifying it right.

    Need more thought on this subject to understand it better.
    Juneta @ Writer's Gambit

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    1. It took me a while to figure out exactly what genre I was writing in too.

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  6. Your ideas of adding originality to the formula sound spot on to me. Those are the things that make a book stand out to me as a reader. I put down a lot of mystery/suspense novels because the cliched-ness of them makes me yawn. The ones I keep reading, that tend to stay with me, have that little extra something that makes it stand out. Sometimes, though, it's hard to put a finger on exactly what that is.... :)

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    1. Yes, sometimes they are difficult to put a finger on. But that's okay. That means the author is doing a good job. :)

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  7. Ooh, love those tips. Balancing formula with originality is something I struggle with, too, especially for my horror projects. (Did I not put enough of a spin on this specific formula? Or am I going to alienate everyone 'cause it's TOO MUCH of a spin?! AAAHH.)

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    1. *LOL* I worry about putting too much spin on too.

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  8. It can be difficult to balance between formulaic plots and original ones (or not quite as formulaic). I sometimes try smaller twists, like in my fantasy killing off the "mentor" character before they can become a mentor. Sometimes the little things are enough.

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  9. I like your ideas. I hate formulas! I’m the same way about movies. Formulas make them predictable, and that’s boring. I think it’s why I respect Gillian Flynn so much. She’s defiant! She took the formulas and laughed at them. Obviously, the genre requires certain things to fit, but that doesn’t mean it has to be exactly like some other book. People love to be surprised, even if they’re equally enraged like I was Gone Girl.

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  10. Good ideas Christine. It's hard to write something original nowadays. I try to put a new spin, my own spin on it. The foundation has already been laid. What hasn't is how would I tell that story. I also humanize my villains to the point you don't know if you should root for the villain or the hero to win. And if all else fails, I try to remember these two quotes:
    "All my best thoughts were stolen by the ancients."- Ralph Waldo Emerson
    "In order to grow your audience, you must betray their expectations."- Hayao Miyazaki

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    1. Fantastic quotes, Lidy! And I do love humanized villains. I did that in my Totem series to the point where I thought the villain should win. *LOL*

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  11. I love twisty sub-plots. I've never paid attention to formula for plot. I just write...but I suppose my brain is hardwired to the formulas as an avid reader.

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  12. It's an interesting dichotomy and your ideas are great. Self-publishing is good as it gives you so much freedom, but putting a new spin on a formula sounds like something that would be cool to do. Sometimes, restrictions can cause you to become even more creative.

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  13. Very interesting. I like reading James Patterson. His mystery books are enticing, but I can see the formula every time. And the same with other authors. I have to admit, when I find something different in a book, I stick with that author for a while.

    And like Chrys, I don't stick to a formula. I just write. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't...

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  14. Formulas is what had me not picking up a YA for a long time. I still haven't really picked any trad up lately.

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    1. I've been staying away from PNR lately for that reason.

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  15. I used to write screenplays and it's the same thing, original but only slightly. I can't get into it. I like new.

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  16. In a nutshell, this is basically why we went with self-publishing. We were sick of hearing "This is great, but it's just too unique. It'd be hard to sell." Why is unique automatically bad? We never think of formulas when we write. That just sounds... so boring.

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    1. Exactly. I like the freedom self-publishing gives. I don't have to make a story a certain way. I can let the story be whatever it wants to be.

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