It is Friday of my first week with Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s enormously helpful Book in a Month. I’m using it to write a work of fiction, for which it was designed, but four different faculty members are also using it with narrative nonfiction. That’s the application I’m hoping it will work for in this office. In fact, one anthropologist says it is solving a particular problem he was having… his university press editor wanted him to tell “more of a story” with his research, but he is loathe to dramatize anthropology, for he feels that has been an insidious problem in the profession for generations. Book in a Month gives him a way to structure the material without pumping it. Instead of hyping things to make them sound more dramatic, he is simply placing them where they can have the most narrative impact without actually changing a thing. Whether this particular formula is the best one or not remains to be seen–I’m only a week into it, and my four authors are several days behind me–but I’m hopeful.
After all, life is often about formula. We teach to a flexible formula in the classroom that is largely made up of conventional units that have worked over time (50-minute sessions, for example, or Q&A after the lecture, or quizzes and tests). That doesn’t mean our content is formulaic, although it sometimes can be, but rather that we don’t have to re-invent every element of the teaching experience every semester or year… some things have worked historically and will continue to do so.
Or as James Scott Bell says in his helpful book Plot and Structure, “Why does something become a formula in the first place? Because it works! Here is the formula for an omelet: Crack a couple of eggs. Scramble them. Heat up a skillet…” (11). It’s the execution that makes a product special.