I’ve had several conversations with people about my Ghost Targets series, and along the way I’ve surprised a couple of them by talking about the structure of these novels. Because it’s consistent — it’s a known value. I aim for a 60,000 word novel, which is relatively light reading. I try to do fifteen 4,000-word chapters, divided evenly into three “acts”: the setup or “teaser,” the confrontation, and then the resolution. They’re built on the “cop drama” framework, which is pretty much the same as the generic Mystery formula, but without some of the stylistic flourishes you’d expect in a whodunnit.
When I start talking like that — when I say, “I’ve got a story idea” and then I immediately know what parts of the plot will fall on which page numbers — a lot of people get this look of disappointment in their eyes, like somehow I’m playing Mad Gab now instead of actually writing new stories. But, y’know, I’ve thought about it a lot, and here’s my answer to that thinking:
It all depends on what you mean when you say “formula.” There’s nothing wrong with form, like with the pre-set shape of a haiku, or how Shakespeare’s sonnets always conform to one framework (with three quatrains and then a rhyme). The books in Katie’s story are the same. The quality is only in the content, not how fresh the font or far between the chapter breaks.
But yes, she lives and solves the crime, and often talks with Door who cannot tell her where he is, but gives the key detail. And…leaves you wanting more.
The coolness lies in character and plot. Forget the frame — ask is it good, or not?