Writing Formulas and Artistic Expression

I am interested in writing formulas, but I know others look down on them. I believe that formulas can help writers be more creative.

A while back I read an article on-line, no idea where now, about formulas. The author was very anti-formula. He talked about Michael Moorcock’s ” how to write a novel in three days”, which also mentions Lester Dent’s Master Plot Formula.

This link has a description of both of these: http://www.wetasphalt.com/?q=content/how-write-book-three-days-lessons-michael-moorcock.

The writer disparaged the whole “pulp fiction” approach to writing. He said that good writers don’t do “pulp writing”. What caught my eye was his examples of good writers: H. P. Lovecraft, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ray Bradbury. I wondered if he had his tongue in cheek because all these writers started writing for pulp magazines.

What this illustrates for me is that use of a writing formula is not a barrier to artistic expression. I found formulas helpful in my writing, although I wouldn’t claim to be a successful writer artistically or financially.

The comparison I think of is poetry, and specifically the sonnet. Sonnets follow a very strict format. The number of lines, the lengths of the lines and the rhyming scheme are set out. This has not stopped many poets from creating many great sonnets over the years.

Formulas do place constraints on a story, but writers, like poets, can see these as opportunities for creativity. A formula can allow a writer to focus on the deeper parts of the story and not the superficial plot.

I haven’t really used a formula to help my creativity to any great extent. In my transportation stories, “The Gladstone Barrier” and “The Glencoe Development”, I did extend the formula by substitution verbal arguments for physical violence. When I converted these stories into my movie “The Barrier” I didn’t stick to the formula.

I suspect that all stories use a formula, but that the more sophisticated writers develop a formula for the one story and never use it again. Since it never gets reused, nobody thinks of it as a formula.

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