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  • Writer's pictureD.S. Ritter

The Math of Writing Novels

The amount of math your average writer (not to mention self-published author) may need in their career almost makes me wish I hadn't stopped taking the classes in high school!

A chalk board full of equations

I'm serious!

Maybe it's just the type of writer (or person?) I am, but I'm constantly drawn to writing books that inevitably have something like percentages in them. I think this is because a hard structure actually serves to facilitate my creativity. If I know where the edges are, it's easier to understand how my story fits into them and where I could go over them for best results.

The math of writing? Examples?

Save the Cat! Writes a Novel cover

This book is pretty popular at the moment and it contains actual charts, which I love.

Obviously, things like Fun and Games needing to be between the 20%-50% marks of your book are guidelines rather than irrevocable laws, but it's great to have a bit of a road map. You don't have to color within the lines religiously, but having lines at all has a tendency to get me pretty inspired and keeps me on track to finish the book.

Plus, I've been writing this way for a while and I don't think I've ever gotten dinged for my pacing.

It also contains a really interesting breakdown of various genres of stories, and they're not what you think.

The Story Grid cover

This one is a bit of a heavy-hitter when it comes to analysis and technical stuff. Shawn Coyne is an editor and he uses that expertise to go in and just dissect the hell out of story.

The result is something rather dry and super nerdy, which was just what I needed when I picked this up. There was also a podcast for a while, where Coyne walked a baby-author through writing his first book. Again, it was pretty dry and nerdy, but awesome "listen-while-doing-the-dishes" fodder for me while I was cranking out my first couple of books.

There's also a blog and, if you're really a convert, training where you can train as a writer or an editor, I believe. I have not signed up for the courses, I've only read the book and listened to the podcast. And perused a couple of the blog posts... probably.

Story Engineering Cover

This was one of my early "hardcore" writing books and to be honest, when I got it, I hated it. I think this is because I was a dyed-in-the-wool Pantser at the time and nothing displeased me more than the idea that stories had to have rules or a solid structure. It took me years and the incredible insight of a veritable guru to make me realize that planning and structure didn't actually suck all the fun of writing away for me.

My personal story aside, this book on writing is considered a bit of a classic by a lot of people I've met over the years. It's a little technical, a little dry, a little inside-baseball, but if you find yourself getting real serious about getting your thoughts organized (or just eat up dry, nerdy writing books like I do) then this is definitely one to check out.


And frankly, that's just stuff to read before you get into the self-publishing game. Once you have a book (or preferably books, frankly) you have to start thinking about crazy stuff like how a series read-through rate relates to ROI (return on investment). I mean, at the beginning of this journey I had no idea how to calculate a read-through rate or that was even a thing I needed to be thinking about. Thankfully, a couple of people have come out with books that cover all that stuff and more, but I'm going to cover those in a future post.


What I'm Writing:

Still beavering away at that cozy/sweet fantasy romance. I even came up with a title! Falling at Felldown Farm. At the moment, it's sort of like Legends and Lattes had a baby with Stardew Valley and I 'm kind of loving it.

What I'm Reading:

Empire of the Vampire Cover

My current opinion: While it took me a hot second to get into this book, it's been a ride so far. The flavor grows on you as you read, and now I'm weirdly attached to the main character, despite not loving him as much as I did Mia in Nevernight.

I also just got to a major event in the book that had me saying "No freaking way," out loud as I was walking around my neighborhood (audiobooks for the win!) and a big reveal that I saw coming, but still found incredibly satisfying. While others in the group that was reading this book with me have bailed, I'm in it for the long haul at this point and pretty excited for the second book in the series to come out.

*Some of the links I include are affiliate.

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