Formulaic vs Great Expectations

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By Davalynn Spencer

“I don’t want to write formulaic stories,” the workshop attendee said. “They’re predictable and boring.”

I understood what the man was trying to say, but I didn’t agree which how he said it.

And isn’t that what this writing gig is all about – how we say what we say?

Readers who enjoy specific genres of commercial fiction (as opposed to literary fiction) do so because they expect – greatly – the promised premise of that genre.

  • A contemporary action-adventure reader does not want historical romance.
  • Romance readers lay down their coin for a happily-ever-after. Pity the author who doesn’t know the difference between a love story and a romance. (Wherefore art thou, Romance?)
  • What is the horror genre without dread of the unknown?
  • The complexity of human relationships varies between middle-grade fiction and adult suspense.
  • Cozy mysteries better not have bloody bones hidden in the freezer.
  • Westerns better have a cowboy.

And the caveat here is that some readers will read all of the above and love them. God bless those voracious consumers of the written word!

In my opinion, formulas are important. Rather than boring and predictable, I see them as a type of recipe.

My family loves my butter-and-cream-cheese-frosted, secret-ingredient, dark-chocolate cake. I’ve

made it countless times, and it is nearly always requested when birthdays roll around. The texture and taste of this chocolate cake are tattooed on my children’s taste buds. If I attempt to make a “healthy”

adaptation of this sacred dessert with imitation sweetener or low-fat cream cheese, they know it.

And I hear about it.

When they want my particular version of chocolate cake, they want my particular version of chocolatecake. Sans modifications.

They are die-hard genre cake-eaters with great expectations.

Similar to many readers of specific genre fiction.

A non-writing romance reader not long ago laid out the formula followed by a particular author to which she turns again and again. Her recitation sounded like a course in romance writing. However, she knew what those stories tasted like and she wanted seconds. And thirds.

The trick to following a genre recipe is creativity. Shun predictability by exploding that helicopter a little differently than what is expected. Wrap up the happily-ever-after with an unexpected twist or two.

Make your readers and reviewers say of your work, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming.”

An advanced reader for my recently released novel, A Change of Scenery, book 4 in a series, said, “Now this was a totally different story line. Never before have I read a book that told this type of story, so it was new and refreshing!”

My goal is to hear that comment again, and again. Over and over. That’s a review I will never tire of.

Because it’s how we say what we say that makes for a tasty book.

. . . die-hard genre cake-eaters with great expectations @davalynnspencer #ACFWBlogs #writetip #ACFWCommunity Click To Tweet

Davalynn Spencer writes Western romance set along the Front Range of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. She is the wife and mother of professional rodeo bullfighters and an award-winning rodeo journalist and former crime-beat reporter who caters to Keeper the Cowdog and mouse detectors Annie and Oakley. Connect with her at http://www.davalynnspencer.com.

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