Writing as Formula


img_0087As I listen to the audio version of The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, I feel a twinge of inadequacy: my book is crap. Nick Podehl’s rich narration of the author’s complexly interwoven story line and extensive sensory description is a sharp contrast to the present tense Young adult novel I have been writing. My sense of inadequacy is not really self-depreciating, but the self-evaluating. I do not believe I am crap, but that my skill level is not were I would like it to be. Then again, I am comparing myself to Patrick Rothfuss, a master of the fantasy genre.

I am not writing fantasy novel. I am writing young adult novel. I remind myself that I did take a course on how to structure a young adult novel, so I am confident of the skeletal structure. Perhaps, my recent immersion into fantasy has clouded my judgement. When I make it to InterAmerican campus, I find a comfortable seat in the courtyard of building six and open the young adult novel I recently purchased at Barnes and Noble: Traveler by L. E. DeLano.

I chose this book because of two immediate similarities to my own. It is written in the first person present tense and it is the story of a young lady, living an ordinary life until something magical happens. I will not only read this book. I will dissect this book, examining the literary elements like I do the classical literature in my ENC1102 course. By the time I make it to chapter 5, most of my misgivings have subsided. My novel is genre appropriate.

That does not mean my work is without flaws. I am sure it will undergo numerous revisions before it is ready for publication, but that is merely the consistent application of process not magic.

I learned this secret from a visiting professor from Argentina. I was working on my minor in Spanish, and decided to take a Spanish Literature class that focused on magic realism. The instructor was actually a math professor who also published his own short stories. When I asked him how he became a successful writer he said good writing follows a formula. It was an idea that changed my life. Writing was not the hopeless seduction of some literary muse. It was a formula, just like math. If you knew the formula, you could reproduce it. I do not say this to diminish the talent of writing. The formula requires the acquisition and application of numerous skills. The more those skills are refined, the better the writing, but fear not! The formula can be mastered.

I set my novel down and take another sip of my quickly cooling coffee. I check the time. I have an hour before class. Today, my students will be ready the introductions to their literary analysis. A few days ago, I have them the five-part formula. Today, we will see how well they implemented that formula through the creative use of their own individual writing styles.

I extend my legs as I reach for the foot rest of bright green and blue patio furniture and begin to read again.

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