The Formula

Elizabeth tells her father that Darcy was resp...
Image via Wikipedia

Should I or shouldn’t I?

Tell, that is.

Experts advise against it. When you tell people you’re writing a novel, they reply.

“You still haven’t finished that thing?”

“Why is it taking so long?”

“How much longer are you going to have to work on it?”

“You need to just get busy and write it.”

The questions above fall into the category called Irritating. But the questioners don’t know any better. They’re not familiar with the writing process, they don’t know the difficulties of getting an agent, they don’t know how competitive the market is, especially as we transition into the digital age.

There’s another category of questions that, while unsettling, might be classified as Helpful.

For example, when a writer friend told an acquaintance she was working on a mystery, the acquaintance said, “Well, there’s a formula for that, isn’t there?”

Yes, there is a formula. No, you don’t just make up some new characters and fill in the blanks. No, it doesn’t make the writing any easier.

No–and here’s the answer to the real question–a formula doesn’t make the writing any less worthy of respect.

On the topic of the formula, please take note of the following:

Shakespeare wrote his tragedies according to a formula: five acts, technical climax at the midpoint of Act III, dramatic climax at end of Act V, protagonist with tragic flaw that causes his undoing, etc., etc., etc. He used similar formulas for comedies and histories. His sonnets comprised fourteen lines, iambic pentameter, rime scheme (ababcdcdefef), tied up with a couplet (gg) at the end.

Jane Austen used a formula: Darcy’s first proposal (and subsequent withdrawal of proposal) comes at the exact midpoint of Pride and Prejudice. Open the book to the proposal, and you get half the pages on the left and the other half on the right. It marks the point at which Elizabeth both realizes her folly and loses control of the action.

Edgar Allan Poe wrote according to formula and also wrote an essay explaining the formula.

Aristotle mentioned something about a formula. Writers check out his rules to make certain they have all their bases covered.

From the uninitiated, a formula may elicit sneers.

But Writers, even the Great Unpublished, are proud of the formula, and proud of the company we keep.

6 thoughts on “The Formula

  1. F0rmulas can be good, but as you said, that doesn’t make it easier. I applaud you heartily for trying. You are an inspiration to me.

    I’m going to try that trick with Pride and Prejudice, when I can find my hard copy. I have it on Kindle but…


  2. Oh, boy. I forgot about the Kindle. So much for concrete examples.

    I’m honored to be an inspiration. Reading your statement inspires me, and makes me feel a bit of a humbug, considering how bumpy the going has been lately–but I hereby appoint you to my Muse committee. Your support will help me keep on keeping on.


    1. “The Philosophy of Composition” at It begins with reference to a letter from Charles Dickens. For some reason, it pleases me to know that Dickens and Poe corresponded. I just came across an article linking Pickwick with Ligeia and I can’t imagine what those two have in common.

      Oddities are good. I finally realized it was easier being an oddity than striving to fit in.

      The novel’s okay. We hate each other right now. I think the tectonic plates are about to shift again, and I’m sort of waiting to see where everything ends up.


    1. Chelsea,

      Thank you. I’m a born flounderer, grateful for all the formulas I can find.

      I’m glad you stopped by. Thanks for commenting. I hope you’ll come again.



Comments are closed.