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Writing Formulas as Guides
by Gloria T. Delamar

The idea of "writing to formula" turns off many writers. But the fact is, that most writing does indeed fall into certain broad "concepts" or "plans." It's not counter- productive to understand these accepted schemes for making a piece of writing make sense for the intended reader (and first, the intended editor). Don't let yourself get locked into seeing formulas or concepts as negative; the reason they've been defined is because they work--and that's positive synthesis. 

Mathematical Patterns Applied to Fiction

1+1=2 
This equation represents the "satisfying" or "happy-ending." 
At least three-fourths of all modern, commercial short stories and large percentage of longer stories, are written on this pattern. 

1-1=0 
This equation represents the "unresolved" or "fitting punishment ending.
A much smaller percentage of "literary" stories follow this pattern. 

"1" represents basic emotions: 
love, hate, fear, anger, courage, security, greed, piety, pride, honor, generosity, miserliness, honesty, good, evil, friendship, ambition, desire, patriotism, etc.

or conditioned emotions:
parental love, sacred love, profane love, etc. (ETC. for all basic emotions.) 

To make a strong story, you need a strong conflict between two emotions. You can match two simple emotions, two conditioned emotions, or a simple emotion and a conditioned one. Though the + or - signs in the mathematical pattern might be read as "versus" the "plus" and "minus" concepts reflect the nature of the problems and conflict, and forecast the outcome. 

Short Story: 
Single viewpoint character: entire story takes place in a short period of time; 
Single plot: focuses on a single theme. 
Novel: 
May be single or multiple viewpoint (but one viewpoint per scene); story may take place in a short period of time or range over years; may have main plot plus several sub-plots; may focus on a single theme overall, or include more than one. 
 

Aristotle's Rules of Tragedy

amagmorsis: revelation of true identity of person previously unknown. 
catharsis: arousal of pity and fear to enlarge spectator's outlook. 
hamartia: called "tragic flow" inherent defect in the hero. 
periteteia: shift of the tragic hero's fortune from good to bad. 
verisimilitude: "resemblance of reality" in drama or non-drama. 


Five W's and H

The "Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How Formula," though bringing up memories of grade-school days, is still a good touchpoint. It covers all the aspects that should be included in order to convey adequate information to the reader. There are implications in it for any nonfiction, as well as fiction, writers. What is it necessary for your reader to know to get the full impact of your article, nonfiction book, short story, or novel? Think about it. 

The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations (as defined by Georges Polti)

There's an interesting little book of which not many writers, especially beginning writers, seem to be aware. It's been around a long time, having been first published in 1921 and been in print ever since. Georges Polti (1868-?), author of The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations, postulates that there are 36, and only 36, dramatic situations upon which all plots are based. He credits the discovery to the Italian Carlo Gozzi (1720-1806); quotes two acknowledged-to- be-creative Germans: Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) who said he could not identify even that many and Johann von Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832) who said he could not find more; Polti also refers to the French Gerard de Nerval(1808-1855) who said he'd found only 24. 

Polti feels that a singular corollary is attached: that there are in life but 36 emotions. In the book, Polti goes into detail about the situations, mentioning examples and nuances under each, showing the many facets that a single dramatic situation can take. He also notes the elements of each situation. For your perusal, possible dispute, and general information, here then, are the 36 dramatic plots. 
 
1 Supplication 
2 Deliverance 
3 Crime Pursued by Vengeance 
4 Vengeance Taken for Kindred Upon Kindred 
5 Pursuit 
6 Disaster 
7 Falling Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune 
8 Revolt 
9 Daring Enterprise 
10 Abduction 
11 The Enigma 
12 Obtaining 
13 Enmity of Kinsman 
14 Rivalry of Kinsman 
15 Murderous Adultery 
16 Madness 
17 Fatal Imprudence 
18 Involuntary Crimes of Love 
19 Slaying of a Kinsman Unrecognized 
20 Self-Sacrificing for an Ideal 
21 Self-Sacrifice for Kindred 
22 All Sacrificed for a Passion 
23 Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones 
24 Rivalry of Superior and Inferior 
25 Adultery 
26 Crimes of Love 
27 Discovery of the Dishonor of a Loved One 
28 Obstacles to Love 
29 An Enemy Loved 
30 Ambition 
31 Conflict with a God 
32 Mistaken Jealousy 
33 Erroneous Judgment 
34 Remorse 
35 Recovery of a Lost One 
36 Loss of Loved Ones 

 

The Seven Deadly Sins

More Upon Which to Motivate Characters; or Write about for Nonfiction: 
Pride 
Avarice 
Wrath 
Envy 
Gluttony 
Sloth 
Lust 


The Seven Deadly Sins of Writers  (by Gloria T. Delamar) 

Not knowing guidelines and wants of editors to whom submitting manuscripts. 
Not caring about "the language" (spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax, etc.). 
Not attending to the details of consistency (tone, mood, slant, motivation, etc.). 
Not translating foreign words or using "high-tone" words (both to impress). 
Not writing clearly and naturally. 
Not re-writing (only a handful of people can write well on the first draft). 
Not writing. 

- ©   Gloria T. Delamar

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