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Should Writers Follow a Formula?

Different genres have different formulas generally accepted for the genre. Follow the formula too closely and one may be accused of being “formulaic.” Follow it too loosely and one may be accused of not following the genre close enough.

It’s a catch 22, a difficult tight rope to travel across. An author may have a great idea, execute it well, but the home for this idea may not be immediately clear. Without a clear home, selling the novel may prove challenging.

So what does one do? Follow the formula or not?

This is a question every author must ask themselves. Step one is learning the accepted formula and protocol for the genre. For instance, a romance novel has a HEA—Happy Ever After. This is non-negotiable in the romance world. Romance readers pick up a book expecting that happy ending.

But not ever rule is the make-it-or-break-it kind.

There is that old saying: know the rules so you can break them. A writer has to know what’s expected, and then decide how they want to follow it, or not.

There are options either way. I know of authors who have gone the Indie path specifically because they know they don’t follow a specific formula and they are okay with this fact. There is nothing wrong with this! New Adult wasn’t a genre until some Indie writers decided to make it so. But it is a gamble to step outside of accepted boundaries.

I’ve written off formula before. I’ve written on formula. The more strict I get with my writing, the weaker it becomes. I’m a point where the formula is ingrained in me as I write. I know when the first kiss should happen, when the first sex scene should occur.

I don’t stick to the hard fast rules. Some stories need that first kiss later, others earlier. It’s not about following the formula with binders on. It’s about knowing WHY the formula is there, and then making the novel unique and original.

But what happens when the novel is good, it fits but doesn’t fit? What do you do when you’ve made it follow as close as possible, while staying true to your unique vision, but it might not be enough?

Sometimes, you put your heart and soul on the page, pick a path, and cross your fingers. Whether one follows formula or not there is one crucial elemental part of any publishing path: luck.


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