I’ve always celebrated writing as an opportunity to express different ideas. Each short story, novel or essay takes on a life of its own. There is little similarity to each other. Yes, they may be within the same genre, but they maintain unique characters, plots and settings. For this writer, the delicious part of setting words to paper is the gift of exploring all options and avenues.
But there is a whole group of financially successful authors who have made a career of what I deem “formula writing.” We’ve all read these books. Whether the genre is romance, thriller, mystery or action, the story is the nearly the same: only the names and settings have been changed to protect what, I wonder? The writer’s integrity? Failure to venture out on the edge of creating something different which might not be so commercially saleable? Lack of interest to stretch their talent? Most likely, I venture to guess, the fear of losing a sure thing.
Not to fret; this is not a criticism of this type of writing. Like other niches, it aims to please a select group of readers. If you ask many readers they’ll tell you that what they receive from formula books is an infinite sense of familiarity and comfort. The English cozy mystery is a classic example. The reader returns home from a hard day at work, brews a cup of tea and looks forward to yet another version of the same country village murder peopled by familiar characters. It’s like being with a dear friend that can be readily reliable. Similarly, the success of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books, attract the thrill-addicted enthusiast.
The proclivity toward writing following a formula is quite understandable. It is all about comfort and complacency. It is the reader who dictates the success of a book. If contentment or a sense of simpatico results from the story the reader will buy more. Formula writers have found a hook they too are comfortable writing. It is a wonderful way to parlay their talent into financial gain and to win the accolades of a loyal base of fans. And sometimes, if there is a big enough following, the end result might be a film deal. Yes, formula writing is a win/win for author and reader.
Conversely, there are those few, intrepid formula writers who venture out of their own literary comfort zone with mixed results. If the fan base is large enough, there is a chance they will follow the author along sometimes under the condition that after this one, he will go back to what he’s/she’s really good at. However, if the change is too drastic, they will hear fans, “why can’s he/she write like he/ he used to?” Some readers live for the expected. Remember 19th century author, poet, and naturalist Henry David Thoreau’s caution about living lives of quiet desperation? It can leave a lot to be desired.
Fortunately, many others embrace occasional change. My concern is for readers choosing a steady diet of formula books. It is limiting. One of the greatest and fulfilling personal challenges as a reader and writer is experimenting with all types of books. It’s like going to college and being required to take certain unfamiliar subjects. How do you know you won’t like the subject if you don’t sample it? Ditto for reading a variety of books.
Carlotta Holton is the author of Salem Pact, Touching The Dead,Vampire Resurrection, and Deadly Innocence and is a member of the National Federation of Press Women and an affiliate member of the Horror Writers Association.