Writing to formula

Don

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Joined
May 15, 2020
Messages
145
Here's an excerpt from the Doc Savage formula:

The Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot

This is a formula, a master plot, for any 6000 word pulp story. It has worked on adventure, detective, western and war-air. It tells exactly where to put everything. It shows definitely just what must happen in each successive thousand words.

No yarn of mine written to the formula has yet failed to sell.

The business of building stories seems not much different from the business of building anything else.

Here's how it starts:

1. A DIFFERENT MURDER METHOD FOR VILLAIN TO USE
2. A DIFFERENT THING FOR VILLAIN TO BE SEEKING
3. A DIFFERENT LOCALE
4. A MENACE WHICH IS TO HANG LIKE A CLOUD OVER HERO

In my opinion the first part of the Columbo TV show uses this formula:

1. It's an inverted whodunnit. Viewers watch the murder take place.
2. Columbo shows up to investigate.
3. Columbo and the murderer meet, typically at the crime scene.
3a. The presence of homicide detective may surprise the murderer if the murder was staged as a suicide.
4. The murderer initially underestimates Columbo and attempts to manipulate Columbo into the desired direction.
5. The murderer gains an appreciation for Columbo's intelligence, but it's too late.
 

zmunkz

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Joined
Nov 15, 2015
Messages
450
Location
USA
I suppose if the formula is generic enough (hero’s journey, for instance) then this might be possible. However, I think rewarding storytelling is a lot more than hitting beats and following patterns.
 

ginny

registered bibliophile
Joined
Dec 10, 2012
Messages
113
Formulas can be fun.

However there can be a limit.

Take for instance John Wayne / Howard Hawks movies have a formula that is so tight it is noticeable.
The actor change but the characters the plot and action stay the same.
There might be a shift in the order sequence of scenes; but just as you think they left out a scene...it shows up like a bad penny.

I once made my brother-in-law(fan of John Wayne movies)watch four of them in a row just to prove my point.

Even changing up a few of the things in the op's list doesn't help you out of that conundrum.

.
 

Tavis Newsome

Member
Joined
Jun 3, 2020
Messages
9
Location
Melbourne, Australia
I think formula writing has diminishing returns depending on the audience. In our information saturated age where TV binge watching is common, it's easy to see formulaic writing. Over time, there's a loss of impact on the viewer, as we become familiar with the formula and know the stakes aren't as high as the writing (acting) would have us believe.

But there's comfort in well-written formulaic plots, especially if the outcome strays from audience expectation (itself derived from a familiarity with the formula).

But, just one more thing...

The adage for aspiring writers to read a lot is partly so they can learn, then synthesise expectations native to a certain genre. This might include aspects of storytelling that appear formulaic. Like most things, it's the execution that matters.
 
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