I love hopping down rabbit holes. As a curious creative, they can sometimes lead to phenomenal discoveries of either artistic or intellectual value. Besides that, you never know what you might get into. One rabbit hold could branch off to another, and another, and another…until you realize you’ve gone off on such a tangent, you’re not sure how to get back to the origin point.
And that’s such a great maze to decipher. I’ve done it many a time, and almost every instance taught me something new.
But every so often, you dive down a rabbit hole in an attempt to prove something can be done, only to find in the attempt you’ve done your craft a disservice.
That happened to me recently.
Let me explain.
There’s this thing call the Golden Ratio.
Aka, the number Phi.
Aka phi^2 = phi + 1.
This number is closely related to the Fibonacci Sequence, which is 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34. If you look at that sequence, a pattern should emerge:
You get the picture.
That sequence is most famously applied to the Nautilus.
That shape is also often applied to graphic design, as it instructs the designer precisely where to place objects in an image.
But the Golden Ratio is applied to everything. It’s literally everywhere:
- In the number of leaves on a tree.
- In algorithms.
- The length of our fingers.
- Animal bodies.
- DNA molecules.
Once upon a time, a theorist even applied the Golden Ratio in an attempt to determine the perfect number of paragraphs for short essays. Said number is 5.
So after reading enough about the Golden Ratio, I decided to attempt to apply to writing fiction. How hard could it be?
You see, applying the golden ratio to a short essay is one thing. But when you start to scale out to the size of a full length novel, things start to get incredibly challenging. But I tried. I wanted to see if there was a way to figure out, according to the Golden Ratio, the number of chapters in a book, words, in a chapter, characters in a book, books in a series.
I gave it my best effort, but eventually the math swallowed me whole. To be quite honest, I’m glad it did. Why? Because had I been successful, I’d have come up with the formula for the ideal book.
And I would have shared that formula.
And people would have used it.
And then we’d have a tsunami of books that had the same number of characters, the same number of words, the same number of chapters.
Formulae are great for so many things, but not the arts. The arts is where we break free from the shackles of formulae. To start applying formulae to artistic works is to become predictable.
In sports, to be predictable is to be beatable.
In the arts, to be predictable is to be boring.
And even though having a formula to write the perfect book might eventually exist, I highly recommend you avoid it.
There’s always an “unless.”
If you’re new to the world of writing, formulae can be helpful. Take, for instance, when I first started writing. The only way I was able to complete my first book, “A Blade Away,” was with an outline. And in creating that outline, I developed a writing method that went something like this:
- First I wrote a single sentence describing each chapter.
- Once that was done, I wrote a paragraph for each chapter, filling in the details.
- When that was complete, I expanded each paragraph until it was a full chapter.
That was all it took for me. I used that method for every book I wrote, up to I Zombie I. I discarded the structure then, because I knew I Zombie I had to be fueled by chaos and an outline would do me no good.
Of course, after writing I Zombie I, I realized my writing style was much better served without an outline. But had I not created that structure, that formula, in the beginning, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
So, yes, use a formula in the beginning. But once you’ve developed your own voice and your own style, let it go.
Otherwise, you’ll become predictable.
And we all know where that leads.