An Algorithm is a procedure or a formula for solving a problem. On the internet, the most famous algorithm is the one used by Google to determine which page comes up first during a search. But they’re used by police, by scientists, by teachers and just about every professional to arrive at the solution to a challenge that must be solved.
So it is with writing.
Each kind of book has an algorithm, a strategy, a structure, an architecture that is duplicated time and time again to arrive at the result that is the finished book. Ten years ago, writers used to say that a particular kind of book was formulaic. That was a pejorative comment because every author, editor and publisher wanted to believe, rightly or wrongly, that all their books were unique, special, different. Not only does that prove not to be the case, it can actually be a strategy that hurts your chances for success as a writer.
Let me give you a non-writing example. When Mozart wrote a classical symphony, he used a classical symphonic structure, or algorithm. Within that algorithm, Wolfgang was free to do whatever he wanted, and the possibilities were limitless, but every listener in the audience, knew that the symphony would have four movements, each movement would have a particular tempo, there would be one or two themes as well as a bridge theme that would undergo several pleasant, and almost predictable, variations. No ‘surprises’ and everyone loved it. Then Beethoven came along and everyone hated his third symphony because that was where he threw all the rules out the window and no audience member knew what was going on.
So it is with writing. The book you want to write has an algorithm. Follow that algorithm and agents, editors, publishers and readers will love you. Divert from it, and you’ve got an uphill struggle.
1) Your first step is to purchase no fewer than 10 current best sellers in your area of interest. If you want to write thrillers, get thrillers. If you want to write romance, get romance. Try to get books that are as close to what you want to write as possible. So if you’ve got your heart set on a thriller with a kidnapping as the major event, that’s what you’re looking for. If romance is your thing, remember that this category alone is divided into more than a dozen sub genres. Science fiction? Well, you know as well as I do that this is just a very rough starting point. Now, if for some reason you can’t get specific, then go with the more generic. Can’t find 10 thrillers involving a serial killer? Okay, then go with three.
2) After getting your hands on those books, read them quickly. No more than an hour or two for each one.
3) Now go through each one again and tell me, in once sentence, what happens in the first scene. Keep it broad, not specific. Just about every thriller has someone significant dying a grisly death in the first scene, just to get the reader warmed up.
Romance? We get to meet the hero or heroine and realize that despite their success in life, there is an empty spot.
4) Do that for each scene and you’ve got the algorithm for that book.
5) Put the algorithms of these 10 books together as cohesively as you can so you have one, comprehensive algorithm that incorporates the majority of books you’ve studied.
This is the algorithm that will help you when you write your genre book.