Last week I wrote about Hallmark Movies and their tendency to be formulaic. And I don’t think formula’s are always a bad thing. But there was a time when my literary snobbery got in the way of a good time.
As a teenager I flirted with a certain author’s romance stories that would be considered formulaic—perfect miniseries material. I knew the heroine inevitably lost her money, title, etc. and for three nights she’d be put through the wringer with at least three marriages, a manor house destroyed and end with one of her wayward children returning to the fold just in time to see her mother’s business venture take off.
But I wouldn’t read the books. I considered them predictable and banal, but I didn’t mind them being made-for-tv catnip. Fifteen-year-old me would act above reading it, but thirty-eight-year-old me would paraphrase James Carville and yell, “It’s a story, stupid. Just embrace it.”
All stories have a formula—its’ how we get comfortable with the insane amount of drama and danger we convince ourselves is okay to enjoy instead of worrying that we may be sociopaths. Except when we like the formula, we call is a writer’s “distinctive voice”. When we don’t like it, we say it’s predictable. I have a few authors that I read because I know exactly what to expect from their books. They’re my comfort food for the mind. #ComfortMindFood
Do you think the Grimm Brothers sat around worrying that the stories they’d collected had more than a few that sounded eerily similar? No and we still read and adapt those stories to this day. My point being today’s formulaic story could be tomorrow’s classic.