So many times recently, I’ve seen so many posts in so many writing blogs, giving so much writing advice that offers a formula.
This is how your beginning should go, they say — or, perhaps worse, Your novel should have a character type from all of these.
And to this, while they’re all very talented writers, all I can say is, HA!
Of course, I wouldn’t state it like that if I was speaking to an individual.
To keep certain novels from suffering with low self esteem, the AfPoCR (they’ve branched out since they named themselves the Association for Protection of Character’s Rights, but chose to remain the AfPoCR) came up with a slogan: Every novel is loved – Every novel is special – Every novel is unique.
And, indeed (though the AfPoCR tends to be a little extreme at times), the last part is very, very true.
Imagine A Tale of Two Cities compared to Left Behind*. Both are novels, both fiction, both written by men —and yet, they are two drastically different stories.
They both have drastically different characters, different beginnings, and different endings (something about the world ending in one). And yet, both of them are good novels, beloved by many readers.
There are many such book out there. Though they’re incredibly different, both are good; neither is correct or incorrect.
You do not need to have eighteen different types of characters in your novel. If you think you can’t properly manage that many characters—or if you don’t think it wouldn’t be best for your novel—you can dispense with the father, stepmother, guide, and multilingual best friend. You don’t necessarily need your hero to have an elderly guide. While monkey wrenches are sometimes fun to have around, they don’t always need to be there.
And, while the three-act structure is common and clever, there are other forms of story structure which you can use.
The odd thing about writing, the one thing that we all end up both loving and hating, is that there is no formula. There is no Seven Steps to the Perfect Novel; if there was, what would the use of reading novels anymore? They would all be the same story with slightly different characters and only vaguely different plots. You, as the writer, posses the imagination, the skill, and the power to create your own characters, your own novel, your own story structure. While you can do things similar to another author, you don’t have to follow all the steps.
Do read them; do learn from them; do consider them. Yet always be aware that, whether your favorite author, a bestselling author, or a random name you don’t know states it, they don’t have the perfect formula for your novel.
You have that.