“Chasing the vagaries of the bestseller list (believing in formula and not form) is the mark of an amateur.” (Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid, p. 31)
Coyne asserts that following trends or trying to write according to a formula doesn’t work. Writers need to focus on understanding the fundamental “form” of the story they are writing. It offers limitless opportunities to be creative, as long as certain expectations are met. So this means that rather than attempt to write the next 50 Shades according to a formula involving BDSM and alluring characters because the original sold well, a writer should look at the form of erotic romance and adhere to that.
“When a story “works,” it makes you want to keep listening to it, or reading it or watching it. And what will happen next, while completely in keeping with its initial promise (a Western, a Bildungsroman, a ghost Story around a campfire, whatever) delight over and over again. But the kicker is that the climax will be utterly refreshing. By Story’s end, the listener or reader or watcher has to be at the very least surprised and satisfied by the pay off of the Story’s initial promise. (Ibid, p. 35)
He goes on to say, when the Story really, really works it is life changing for the reader.
So what exactly does Coyne mean by “form?” It involves a deep understanding of Genre. “Learn the form. Master the form. Then if you want to try and write the next Gravity’s Rainbow, knock yourself out.” (Ibid. p. 27)
“Editors at publishing houses do’t work for writers.” (Ibid., p. 25) They work for the publishing house and their sole goal is to create a marketable piece of fiction as fast as they can, not to make your story the best it can be. That is why all writers need to be good editors, so that they can polish their own work.
On Literary Fiction:
“”…there are fewer and fewer trusted arbiters of genius in the media these days (there are only a handful of newspapers that even review books anymore), it’s getting more and more difficult to sell copies of a book based purely on its literary cachet.” (Ibid., p. 26)
There’s a lot of build-up in this book. Coyne is selling his idea that one needs to understand his grid. I can’t wait to actually read about the grid. I’m on page 86 (out of 333 pages) and reading short chunks at a time. I’ll keep you posted.