The introduction of writing into the state educational achievement tests resulted in a plethora of writing models. One teacher supported the “Six Plus One Trait” writing model with a kind of fanaticism. Others plugged a device called the “freeze frame” after the cinematographic technique. This consisted of a few sentences of lush description, which should make an essay more appealing. We encouraged students to focus on writing a dramatic scene for one particular brief period of time. Only writing consists of more than a lot of beautiful phrases strung together.
Other well-meaning educators championed the “Hero’s Journey” model to add excitement and entertainment to the everyday accounts of teenagers trying to score well on these tests. So, some students assumed writing a good narrative essay would be easier if they could just make up information. I let them try until they stumbled over the difficulties of creating their own plots. I expected many students to depend on these modules and formulas to make writing easier.
However, I was perplexed when attending my first group of adult writers and discovered that a large portion of their discussion dealt with building stories on similar frameworks. There were sets of questions to be answered to create stories, then, came guidelines for writing to the beats. Soon, I realized that some authors write books clinging to specific formulas so that they can produce enough to keep up with an audience who want a steady diet of a specific genre. They want to build a loyal readership through constant feeding. Readers who prefer easily consumable literature have always been around. It is the books that they consume that go out of print quickly.
Obviously, some people have been writing memorable books for centuries. Still, new trends keep occurring. Do old ones get boring due to duplication? Imitation may be the greatest form of praise, but it may not be the greatest form of writing. Ideas that work well for some authors may fall flat for another. That is the problem with the passion for the “latest thing.” Writers need to consider whether or not the current popular topic, technique or style is going to work for them. They should not be searching for one idea to use and then abandoned, but ideas that can be used interchangeably over time—creating stories by piecing them together.
Recycling ideas in any creative endeavor is similar to the creation of Frankenstein’s monster—parts of old theories and notions are stitched together in new ways. Sometimes the result is ugly enough to be frightening, but that is no reason to give up. This constant revamping of writing models might not be necessary if we would learn to add fresh ideas to the old one while they are still living, rather than killing them off with the death knell of “a writer should never….”
So my dilemma remains. Should I lean on formulas as a structure to build my written work, with the goal of making it acceptable? Or should I launch out into the unknown, gathering bits and pieces of what I have lived, what I have read and what I have imagined. The second seems more nebulous. It requires that I run finished work through the gauntlet of all those rules that writer’s are warned not to break. But, in the end I know there are no sure formulas and no sure rules. Perhaps that is the most monstrous part of writing.