Saturday, August 29, 2009

There's a Formula for That

By Keith Fisher

In college, I learned about formulas. If I needed to find out the length of C on a right triangle I used, A2 + B2 = C2. For area calculations, Width in feet x Length in feet = square feet worked for me. Later, as a house builder, I figured concrete in cubic yards this way, Width in feet x Length in feet x Thickness in feet / 27 = Volume. Of course there is the famous formula, E=MC2. Or, energy equals mass multiplied by the speed of light squared. Of course it’s a little difficult to understand. Follow the link to hear Einstein explain it to you.

But I digress . . .

When the ladies in my critique group told me I’m not writing a romance, but women’s fiction, I asked them to tell me what romance is. To subsidize my lessons, I consulted a book called How to Write Romance, published by Writer’s Digest and edited by Romance Writers of America.

I found many answers, but my group said it has to follow the formula.

1. Boy meets girl.
2. Boy gets girl.
3. Boy loses girl
4. Boy gets girl back.
5. They live happily ever after.

“But what about Nicholas Sparks?” I said.
“He doesn’t write romance,” They said.

Having read Nights in Rodanthe, I shook my head. Okay, I admit it’s a guy thing, but I always assumed that when two people meet and fall in love, it’s romance. I learned that because Sparks ends his stories with a tragedy, its not considered romance.

“So what about Bridges of Madison County?” I asked.
“Not a romance,” They said.

I learned that even though a story could have romantic overtones, it has to follow the formula.

During this time of learning, I watched one of my favorite old movies, Father Goose. Starring Gary Grant and Leslie Caron. The role Cary plays is completely different than his usual suave and sophisticated leading man. He’s an alcoholic, anti-social, society drop out. He gets tricked into becoming a coast watcher on an island in WWII.

Enter the leading lady. She appears to be the opposite of him. So much so, they begin to hate each other. While watching the movie, I suddenly realized, the ladies were right.

The movie is classic, and it follows the formula.

1. Boy meets girl.
2. Boy hates girl.
3. Girl hates boy.
4. They fall in love.
5. They get married.
6. They almost lose each other.
7. They come back together for the final scenes, when we are assured they will live happily ever after.

Okay, so, even though my book has romantic elements, it is women’s fiction. I can live with that, because I’ve noticed that women are more critical than men, and if I write my story correctly, I will have accomplished something.

Of course you’ve noticed there are formulas to follow in every genre. Just like the Pythagorean Theorem helps me find the length of the hypotenuse on a right triangle, following a genre formula will help me plot my book. If I get it right, I might have a bestseller on my hands.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.


Mary Campbell said...

I love that movie Father Goose. Great comparison.

Terresa said...

And I thought formulas were left up to men in white lab coats stirring up flavors off the New Jersey Turnpike.
Ahh, so much in this learning curve of writing...

L.T. Elliot said...

I never thought about it this way. I loved the Notebook and thought it was incredibly romantic but I guess it's kind of a tragedy. I suppose I saw an eternal kind of spin on it and so, to me, it was wildly romantic. However, if it helps you write, I don't care what formula it is. The world needs your voice, Keith. I've been reading your posts for a year+ now and I say that with absolute sincerity.

Keith Fisher said...

Thank you ladies for commenting. Lt, Thanks for helping me feel like I can really be a writer. Terresa, Your writing is fantastic. Men stirring up flavors off the New Jersey turnpike, thants good.
thank you Mary. Yeah I love that movie movie too. thanks for commenting.

Tristi said...

I didn't understand one word of that whole math thing ... but yes, you got the rest of it right on the head. And I loved Father Goose too.