Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What's your writing formula?

Years back before I seriously started writing I had talked with an author who just sold his first novel, a thriller as I recall.  He commented that with his first book out, the rest would be easier. When asked if he meant establishing himself as an author meant easier sales, he said, "No. The next books I write will follow the formula."

I didn't give it much thought back then, but recently it hit me that I have a formula. My middle grade mysteries follow it, and I've refined it for my later mysteries, including Claws of the Griffin,  from Cool Well Press, and my current work in progress. I will share some of the formula here.

The main POV of the hero is done in first person.(This came after the Penelope Mystery series.)  I add a third person POV for another character who has the next strongest plot line.  Then I add in a few minor third person POVs to round out story. What I like about this approach is the reader gets the intamancy of reading a first person account, and the broader perspective of multiple third persons. Be warned it can be tricky.

Beside the hero and villain, I have a "bad ass" character, who's goal is to give the hero a rough time and side track her. To balance things out, the hero has a counselor, someone who keeps her on track with advice and small helps. Since I write mysteries, the hero, aka detective, has sidekicks.  The rest of a mix is diverse characters.

Toss in strong "red herring". Sadly the art of deceiving the reader with false clues seems to have died. Even when the reader knows its a red herring, it helps to muddy the waters. Just play fair.

Those are some elements of my recipe for writing a story.

So, what's your writing formula?


  1. Interesting, Ron. My mysteries are for 8-12 years, so I do first person for my main character, Leilani, throughout the book. Traditional, but effective, I think, when aiming for that 8-12 crowd!

    Glad to have found your blog. Aloha! --Cheryl

    1. Good to meet you, Cheryl. When I write my MG Penelope Mystery series, I stick with one POV. I think that works best for this age group.

  2. By formula, I'm going to assume you mean process...

    [As far as POV is concerned, there are pluses and minuses for both 1st and 3rd - and my G'Day books alternate chapters between protagonist 1st and the rest of the world 3rd. ]

    For formula, since I write thrillers and mysteries, I need to first know the actual story: who was killed and why, who is the main suspect, who really did it -- all that stuff. I plot the structure next - without the structure I can't start writing the first page. Character research (for the new ones - many of my books take place with the same characters in the same universe as previous books) follows and I write the back story - a couple of thousand words in some cases - for the new characters so I can inhabit them as I write.

    And then I write.

    The structure is fairly well defined for Acts one and two, and three grows organically from that writing. At the second plot point (end of act 2) I'll stop and flesh out act 3 a bit more, but it really grows from acts 1 and 2. Kind of like a planning pantser.

    I'm starting the plotting phase of my seventh book now. It gets both easier and harder every time I do it.

  3. Ah, now I am revealing secrets ;)

    Truthfully, though I don't preplan or chart my plots at all, I have noticed when doing formatting (I paste the new book on top of the old one - saves time because all my styles are already set ;) ) that many of the elements happen in the same general chapter areas. So evidently there is a subconious formula happening.

    there are always two sex scenes, one is usually more romantic while the second is "hotter". Around chapter 8 is a big "reveal" of some kind, depending on the plot of the book. There are at least three battles, with the final of course being the bigger and baddest (usually, in the third book the biggest battle was in the middle and kind of threw things off, I thought). There is a minor climax midway through, where the secondary "problem" is dealt with, the main problem of course being dealt with in the conclusion (again, the third book was iffy in this manner.