So I’ve been thinking about this a bit. In my head formulas are always bad in writing. I hate picking up a book by an author and realizing they’re pretty much just doing the same thing with a small twist.
But I’m quite guilty of it myself. I fear it. My thing is taking people not in power and having them look and sometimes deal with a situation where they are limited in what they can do. I work very hard to hide this fact when I’m writing, but I’m also very aware this is a strength of mine and it’s something I have a lot of fun writing about. Plus, it seems that for the most part my readers enjoy reading about it. (Though I have learned some lessons about what I need to watch out for with these story lines.)
Is it reasonable to fear formulas so much though? I fear them to the point that I want to not write what I’m good at. When I have an idea to start writing something, I find myself frozen for a bit as my mental editor worries about formulas and my inner gut (she wears a beret; it’s really quite silly) says that I need to just write it down and worry about it later.
There is a comfort in some formulas though. Some readers really do enjoy picking up a work by an author and knowing that they’re going to already be familiar with it. They’ve liked it before, they’ll most likely like it again. They trust this author to redeliver something that was good the first time. But that doesn’t mean it has to be the exact same story with elements swapped out. The average reader is smarter than that.
So here’s what I ultimately think: Formulas aren’t necessarily bad. It really depends on what you’re delivering. If your formula is always the same story, then I think some people will eventually get bored. You as the writer might get bored. But if your formula is more steeped in the type of story (I happen to have a dystopia thing going on), then you’ll probably be okay. It’s good to find your hook, and go with it. (My hook happens to be people as the story.)
Ultimately, it always comes down to me doing exactly what I enjoy. I honestly do believe that if I do that, I’ll find my place.