|I could turn lead into gold again, but that|
would be boring.
Almost all Western literary tradition can be traced back to ancient Greece. There, we find the roots of the formulas for tragedy and comedy. Anyone who survived high school literature class should recall that the plot of a classical tragedy is marked by a great person, possessed of a tragic flaw, suffering a reversal in fortune. Things will end badly for our hero. Comedy, on the other hand, deals in the base and lewd, has a bumbling protagonist who manages to reach his goal in spite of himself, and always features a happy ending. Watch a popular comedy movie in 2011, and you're witnessing a formula described by Aristotle 2300 years ago.
Poetry, too, is rife with formulas (aka structure) dictating the number of lines, syllables per line, rhyme scheme, and themes. Every English sonnet has fourteen lines of ten syllables each, written in iambic pentameter, usually centered on the theme of love. A haiku consists of three lines of five, seven, and five syllables, and traditionally looks to nature for subject matter.
Back to Romance. Yes, there is a loose formula for Romance novels. It basically goes this way (SPOILER ALERT!!!): Hero and Heroine meet. Attraction grows, but H & H are kept apart by circumstance. Failure to communicate leads to complications. Hilarity ensues. External complications are resolved. Love is acknowledged; communication brings understanding and resolution for H & H. And the big ending, Happily Ever After.
There you have it. The master plot of every Romance novel currently in publication, revealed. You're welcome.
Literary formulas give the writer a skeleton to flesh out, and they give the reader a reasonable idea of what to expect. You know that when you pluck a novel from the Mystery section at the book store, before you even crack the cover, there will be a crime to solve and secrets to reveal. When you pick up a Fantasy novel, there will be magic inside. Science Fiction will take you to a future of fabulous technology. Formulas allow both writers and readers to find literary genres they enjoy.
|Some of my favorite formulas end in cake.|
Artistry in writing does not come from eschewing formulas, but from working within the confines of one and creating something new and wonderful. As strictly regimented as a sonnet is, there are still limitless ways to write a beautiful one. Even though you know the hero and heroine will achieve HEA in the end of a Romance novel, getting there will be an adventure. Working within the confines of a formula forces innovation on the part of the writer, and gives the reader a fresh take on a favorite genre.