Writing Excuses Season 2 Episode 7: Using Writing Formulas with Bob Defendi

Howard, Dan, and guest Bob Defendi open this episode with some high literary humor. Bob fills in for Brandon as we discuss formulas writers use in crafting stories. But how do we prevent those stories from feeling formulaic? Can the formulas themselves help? We discuss (at a high level) the three-act format, the hero’s journey, the romance, the two-act format, try-fail cycles, and others.

This week’s episode is brought to you by the podcast audiobook Death by Cliché, by Robert J. Defendi. We didn’t plug it very hard in the episode itself, but oh, MAN you need to listen to it. Howard hasn’t laughed that hard in a long time.


29 thoughts on “Writing Excuses Season 2 Episode 7: Using Writing Formulas with Bob Defendi”

  1. Bob is a little too quiet in this mix. I think this is because he is so very, very loud in person. He fooled Jordo into turning his mic too low.

    Go listen to Bob’s podcast for an idea of what he REALLY sounds like.

  2. I thought I heard in the podcast that Several different Formulas could be used in one book or series. Did I that hear correctly, or am I just hoping because I used all of them in my one book?

  3. Howard – don’t worry about giving anything away. I imagine that those of us who haven’t read Eragon and sequels by now probably weren’t planning to.

    It’s actually really weird to hear you guys talking about consciously using formulas. I never give it any thought. I’ll have to try that when I outline my next book, see if it helps my struggles with plot any. Will be an interesting experiment.

  4. Let us not forget the ever popular ‘Clint Eastwood’ effect: Clint is minding his own business, then has to be a badass. There there is a long series of things that go wrong around him culminating in him getting the scat kicked out of him. Only then can he arise to kill everyone.

    Some would say to get Clint caught in a tree and then throw rocks at him until he falls out again. But I wouldn’t want to be the one throwing the rocks if that happens!

  5. Don’t klick that link, people! It’s an absolute timesink, you’ll probably never get anything done ever again. Or at least not for the next half hour or so.

  6. Excellent! I have a portfolio due tonight, the revisions fore which will probably take me all day, and I REALLY don’t want to do them. That sounds like exactly what I need!

  7. I suspect that most of us use formulas without even realizing it. I never set out to write a classic “farmboy” story or a “romance” but there always end up being elements of one trope or another in anything I write. Sometimes they’re more subtle, sometimes they’re quite overt. The series I’m planning is a variation on the farmboy trope. Hopefully I’ll be able to subvert it enough that it’s not too formulaic.

    In my opinion, the best way to keep your story from being formulaic is to realize you’re using formulas and then decide how you want to control them. If you suddenly look at your MC and say, “Holy Cow, that’s Luke Skywalker!” you can go back and make sure that it’s really not Luke Skywalker if you want to. If you never realize the similarity you can’t fix it. Hopefully we’re well-read enough within the genre that we can identify the formulaic elements that are present in our own stories and either weed them out or prune them into our own sort of literary topiary if we prefer.

    Does that make any sense?

  8. As sad as I was not to have Brandon on this podcast, Bob was great!

    (And I got to meet Brandon on his Hero of Ages tour when he swung by NYC last week, so all is well!)

  9. I hope that if Bob is on next weeks cast that Jordo can play with the mix and bring him up a bit before it goes live. That was really hard to listen to in the truck. San was again the only one who I could hear really clearly.
    Please guys, clip those mikes really close to your heads. Check out where Dan puts his and copy that. I noticed at Dragons Keep that Brandon clips his half way down his shirt, which may be why at cons he is so hard to hear.

    Other than technical issues, that was a fun cast. Too bad we didn’t have more time to go into more formulas. Or at least more “tools”. ;P

  10. Hey guys! Any chance you can tell me where your RSS feed actually lives for the podcast? My software’s having trouble subscribing to the feed. Thanks!

  11. Never mind. It seems to be a bug in my chosen software. To top it all off, this bug was supposedly fixed in the version I have, and others have reported it fixed. But, of course, not for me.

    Linux is annoying sometimes.

  12. I forgot to update sometime along and don’t know how many pages back that was, so I don’t know exactly by how many words I’m behind, but I do know that I’m way behind Raethe (and everyone else for that matter).
    Nano should be moved to July or December or some other month that best fits my schedule. ;)

  13. Danget! I flubbed, so I guess I am a wiener.
    Oscar Meyer brand though, if ya gots ta be a wiener at least be a top shelf wiener!

  14. 50,021. Who woulda thunk?

    I did not know it was possible to write twenty five thousand words in a day.

    Suffice it to say, my NaNo has been an interesting experience.

  15. Wow. Raethe, I think you deserve to be the new NaNoWriMo icon. Congratulations, to you and everyone else! Whether you made it or not, at least we’re all trying – and after all, that’s the whole point, isn’t it?

  16. Haha. Thanks!

    I dunno, this 25k words in a day thing – I’d recommend it to anyone. It’s a huge sense of accomplishment, sure – but I cannot believe how much FUN I had!

    And I agree. Trying’s the important part. And anything you did for NaNo is still worthwhile, even if you only wrote a thousand words.

  17. I just found this site today and want to thank you for the really great advice. As for Eragon- I made a point to not read it but now considering it from the point of view of a “tool” for sci-fi fantasy elements, I may actually flip through it once.

  18. Excellent blog! Do you have any tips for aspiring writers? I’m planning to start my own blog soon but I’m a little lost on everything. Would you advise starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many options out there that I’m totally confused .. Any ideas? Thank you!

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