Monday, November 18, 2013

The Nora Formula

There are lots of great writers out there that I love to read. Sometimes I go for literary. Sometimes I need some down and dirty erotica. Often, I'm in need of thrills and chills, and occasionally, I want to my historical fiction. You can clearly see that I'm all over the place as a reader when it comes to genre.

As a writer, I can't help but pay attention to how some of my favorite writers put their stories together--particularly the ones who are very well established and have a niche in the genre world. What do they do that keeps their readers coming back? Is it just good writing? Are we drawn in to their character's worlds? Is it that these writers just seem to always know how to spin a good yarn for their genre?

I think all of the above things can be true, but for some writers the secret seems to be The Formula. They've figured out what "secret" formula works for them and they stick to it no matter what. This can be a good thing as far as book sales and pleasing both old and new readers. However, it can also be a turn off and leave some readers feeling a little cheated.

To illustrate my point, I give you The Nora Formula.

By Nora, I mean Nora Roberts.

I've been a fan of Ms. Roberts for years. She knows her stuff and can suck a reader in with a wave of her magical writing wand. Most people think she is strictly a romance writer, and while it's true she is known for that, many of her current stand alone stories are more in the thriller genre with a splash of romance thrown in. Even her romantic trilogies tend to have some thriller themes to them. I really enjoy reading most of her work.

And yet...lately, I've noticed that I'm disappointed in her newest trilogies. They still have the same rich descriptions about new and exotic locations. There is lots of humor and that sizzle of romance. But...I feel like I've heard all of these stories before. So I asked myself why that is? Why can I figure out by the end of Chapter 3 who will end up with who in subsequent stories and how the end of the trilogy will turn out? Why can I figure out too quickly who the bad guy is? Why can I see the twist coming? Has Nora let me down?

My realization? It's due to The Nora Formula. She has figured out a floor plan for her novels that she uses time and again. The only changes she makes are her character names, their location, and parts of their back story. But the basics remain the same.  Typically, her trilogies consist of the following things:

  • A new comer to a town or location who has been burned by a past relationship whether it be a family member or lover.
  • Something supernatural that may be a ghost or a witch of some sort that causes problems or has it's own love story to be solved.
  • At least, one story will have a single parent with kids.
  • There is always a dog.
  • One of the men will be super smart, one will be funny, one will be the sexy jerk that gets brought down to Earth by his compatible love interest.
  • One of the women will always be the more beautiful of the three and show an innate natural confidence that gets under some man's skin.
  • There is usually some jerky ex husband, boyfriend, or lover that physically threatens one of the women.
  • They all end up married.
  • You will meet the bad guy by the end of Chapter Three. He'll be the one she randomly mentions who doesn't pop up again until almost the end of the book. By the way, that's the bad guy for this leg of the story. There is also a three story arc bad guy, too.
  • Ireland will be brought up even if the story doesn't take place there.
  • Often there is a family matriarch who is a no nonsense type, but has no problem talking to her sons about sex and still bakes cookies. Eventually, you find out she's been having a quiet dignified affair with some minor character.
  • The words "roughshod" and "three fingers of whiskey" will pop up.
  • The sex will always be well written.
Am I wrong? Those of you who've been loyal Nora fans can probably think of several other pieces of the formula I've left out!

Does this make me like her writing less? Not really, but I do think she is very talented and it wouldn't hurt to get something fresh ideas going on in her trilogies. On the other hand, The Nora Formula works for her. It's kid tested and parent approved. It sells books. It generates new readers. Hell, I wish I had The Mary Ann Formula that did the same for me!

What do you think, fellow writers? Who else has their own writing formula that seems to work?


  1. Hilarious, and true! Dick Francis is another one who used the same formula over and over, and I've read every one. Now his son, Felix, is continuing where his father left off and they're just as good. I just finished one. I, too, hope the world falls in love with the Kaye George Formula--as soon as I settle on it.