Sunday, January 16, 2011

Writing With Mad Libs

I love thrillers.  Love them.  Did I mention that I love them?  Lately, however, I've seen my some of my favorite writers turn to a process that I call "writing with Mad Libs."

You remember Mad Libs, right?  The perfect intellectual exercise for long car rides when you were a kid... the best way to entertain your friends by inserting the dirtiest double entendres possible into the blanks... they were a blast.  Now, though, it seems that some writers have begun building their own templates and just inserting things into the blanks to make a new novel.

Here's what I mean:  (COOL HERO NAME), a hero who formerly worked with (TOUGH GOVERNMENT AGENCY) is now a (EVEN COOLER GOVERNMENT AGENCY) fixer, operating outside the normal laws of (INSERT WESTERN CULTURE COUNTRY), must stop (TERRORIST OR TERRORIST GROUP) from  (HORRIBLE CATASTROPHE) in (CITY IN WESTERN CULTURE COUNTRY) or millions of people will certainly die a horrific death.  (SEXY, BUT INTELLIGENT SOUNDING FEMALE NAME), a (JOB THAT DOESN'T SEEM COOL AT ALL BUT MAKES HER SOUND SMART) with (PRESTIGIOUS UNIVERSITY OR GOVERNMENT AGENCY), works with him to find the bad guys, stop the threat and save the day.

Insert some action scenes in remote places, lots of technical talk between the female and male leads, and make the bad guy really, really creepy and you've got yourself a novel.  A lot of people have used this formula to perfection and have built decent careers on either this or the template where the cool sounding hero and the sexy, yet smart female lead must find an ancient artifact before the baddies do.  There are tons of writers who have done this, and a vast minority of them are published.  Yes, you read that right, the six companies that run English language publishing (from here on after known as the Big 6), pay people to write this crap because it's "original" and "something different".  Agents rep these books because they are "innovative" and "creative."

Uh... no, they're not.  They are the same book.  If you could do a search for thrillers that are based around the search for Atlantis or a legend of the Knights Templar or the Book of Genesis, you'd come up with a ton of responses.  Do the same thing with the modern-day terrorism novel.

Now,  I am not saying that we should stop reading or writing these novels.  Far from it.  Because they are all escapism, and we LOVE escapism.  But there has to be a different formula out there, doesn't there?  Anyone?  Bueller?  

1 comment:

  1. I had to laugh when I read this, because I've often thought the same thing - only I never made the Madlibs connections before :) My feeling is that, increasingly, novels emulate movies of the same genre - and mainstream movies have been pretty formulaic for years, IMO.
    Of course there are notable exceptions in the movie world; as for novels, I still believe there are (thankfully) more dynamic and original novels than predictable ones. And we budding authors will work to keep that balance!