Recently, I started thinking about what makes a good story. I know how I like to tell stories but given that I have no formal training or education when it comes to writing, I wondered if there was a standard set of guidelines that stories were more likely to follow. A recipe for success, if you will.
Surprisingly, I found exactly that, a formula for storytelling.
- The hero is an expert.
- The villain is an expert.
- You must watch all of the villainy over the shoulder of the villain.
- The hero has a team of experts in various fields behind him, etc.
- Two or more on the team must fall in love.
- Two or more on the team must die.
- The villain must turn his attentions from his initial goal to the team.
- The villain and the hero must live to do battle again in the sequel.
- All deaths must proceed from the individual to the group: i.e., never say that the bomb exploded and 15,000 people were killed. Start with “Jamie and Suzy were walking in the park with their grandmother when the earth opened up.”
- If you get bogged down, just kill somebody.
I laugh when I read this. Not because it is funny but because it mirrors a lot of my style. If you were privy to the full story for the The Ascension Legacy series, you would quickly recognize the similarities between that story and this formula. There are differences, most notably that my heroes aren’t experts as much as determined and reasonably skilled.
I’m sure there is still a lot more to writing a successful story than just adhering to this formula but it certainly seems that there are some common core basics to storytelling that can be easily leveraged to help structure your book. Thinking about it, my other finished works follow very closely to that formula, though I am not always a fan of killing my team members and I don’t want my stories to always have cliche plot lines of love between teammates. Sometimes that love angle works but other times, I feel it acts more as a distraction that takes away from actual story.
For instance, one book is about a group of young men acting as covert agents of a rebel group working to undermine Nazi rule. Due to the fact that the group is comprised entirely of young men, the only way to have teammates fall in love would be to take an LBGT+ angle. The problem with that is two-fold for me. Writing advice always says to write what you know. I don’t know anything about same-sex relationships. And that leads directly to problem #2. Because I don’t know anything about that lifestyle, I would not want to write anything that is offensive, inappropriate, or unbelievable. Because of this formulaic point being difficult to represent in that story, I focused another part of the story on a husband and wife. Hopefully that will suffice.
How much publishers judge submissions by how well they follow this formula is a bit of an unknown but it does make one question if their work could benefit from adhering to this design. Think about it, most books most of us remember reading certainly echo with the telltale signs of this formula. Harry Potter had death, love, conflict, sequels, experts, and everything else called for in the formula. Same thing for The Hunger Games and The Lord of the Rings.
All that’s left to do now is to figure out how to improve the quality of writing in those areas to see what that can do to elevate things that much more.
Good luck and happy writing.