I recently read a thread where various authors were talking about the romance genre. To make a long story short, it was not in a favorable light. Most of them claimed it was too formulaic and they couldn’t write or be creative under those restrictions, other were less generous, stating that the romance formula doesn't allow for original stories and that romance writers use the same skeleton over and over and that’s why we produce so many books: Writing by numbers.
I’m going to skip past the obvious replies to those statements (but feel free) and just say, Give me a break! But maybe not for the reasons you assume. It's my opinion that, in essence, all writing is formulaic.
Once you step beyond writing for fun, writing for you, and begin writing for publication, every word you write is confined by some kind of restriction or guideline.
Think about it, you have a beautiful one page synopsis and another five page synopsis crafted with loving hands, but the agent wants a three page synopsis. What do you do? You write the three pages. The publisher wants a one line tag. You write the one line tag. A three line blurb? Coming right up.
Good guys must be redeemable; there must be a crisis (at least one) and a crisis resolution. Your characters must grow in some way. And so on. Why these rules? Because that’s what sells books.
And folks, this is a business.
Before starting any business, you determine your market. Who will buy this product? Who are the experts in the field? Where does your product fit in the scheme of things? Then you set about creating the best product you can.
Is it any different in the writing industry?
There are requirements and guidelines to writing, as a job, just like there are requirements in any occupation. You’re no longer simply writing for you, you’re writing for the reader, you’re writing per editor’s instructions, you’re writing per publisher’s instructions. Does that mean you’re any less creative? No. I don’t think so. In fact, at times, you have to be more creative, more subtle, characterize in fewer words. And! And bring something new, fresh and unique to the table. In other words: you need to know your business.
This may make a few people out there angry, but those people who don’t care about industry standards, or the industry at all, who write only what they want, the way they want, and scoff at guidelines are called self-published.
That’s not to say everyone who self-published falls within that category, but if you don't want your creativity hampered in any way, if you don't want to follow the guidelines, it's your only option. I’m also not saying that writing isn’t fun or that you can’t step outside of the box. (See the fresh and creative line) But before you can step outside that box, you need to know where the box is. In writing, you don’t break a rule, until you know the rule.
And yes, I get irritated when wannabe experts make broad proclamations about an industry, and a genre, they know very little about.
And there is my rant. I figure I get one every 6 months or so. ; )