By the Numbers

By now you’ve heard about the big budget summer movies that supposedly tanked at the box office. Maybe you’ve seen some of them and wished you hadn’t. Or, maybe you loved them and can’t understand why they didn’t do as well as predicted. (Or, perhaps you have no opinion at all on the subject.) I haven’t seen any of the ones critics placed on the “tanking” list, because I haven’t seen very many movies at the theater this year. But the issue is, other people haven’t either.

If you follow Nathan Bransford’s blog, you read his post on the subject and the part formulas played in the perceived failure of some of the summer blockbusters. Apparently famed director Steven Spielberg predicted something of the sort. But Nathan discusses an opportunity formulas provide for exercising your storytelling muscle. If you haven’t read that post, you might click on Nathan’s name above and do so. You might also check out the Slate article on Steven Spielberg’s predictions or the Suderman Slate article, which discuss the formula issue. Both are mentioned in Nathan’s post.

Formulas. Aren’t they a guarantee that something works in a certain way? That’s the way formulas in math and science behave. I find the subject of formulas quite fascinating, because I’ve never been very adept at following them. Oh, I could swing a mean Pythagorean theorem if I had to, or whip out the formula for sulphuric acid (H2SO4). But formula writing usually did me in.

I’ve mentioned in a previous post (and I can’t find it right now, just take my word for it) that when I was a teen, my goal was to write Harlequin romances. A friend and I read a good hundred or so one summer to get the formula down before trying our hand at writing some. Crashed and burned we did. All we wound up doing was parodying the romances. I later tried writing a teen paranormal romance. Here’s the formula I worked with:

One hot guy who is special (not exactly sure how; something paranormal) + one girl who thinks she’s plain, but is secretly beautiful + one not-so-hot guy the secretly beautiful girl loves + one girl who thinks she’s hot and the guys do too + some big plot point = ???

Couldn’t make it work. Failed miserably.

I even bought Save the Cat, the book at least two of the above articles mention, hoping to discover some good advice for producing commercially successful fiction. Now I can admit I’d hoped to find a shortcut—an easy way to success.

I love what Nathan said in his post:

First, it just goes to show that while you might follow the market and cash in on the short term, following your own vision will win out in the long run.

Following your own vision. Guess that means doing the hard work of birthing that vision. Hmm. Perhaps I’ll finish reading Robert Olen Butler’s book, From Where You Dream. . . .


Better still, I think I’ll work on my book and stop searching in other people’s books for a way to do just that.

What about you? Like formulas? Dislike them? What do you think of the summer movie situation?

Formula from