Monday, April 16, 2012

Series book and formula fiction

Why formula and series fiction?
  • What gets young readers to read?
  • What keeps them reading?
  • What keeps them reading long enough to become confident reader?
Formula fiction
  • Follows a pattern
  • Plots, characters and themes are predetermined by conventions of genre
  • “patterned” literature
Formula fiction: some genres
  • Mystery and detective stories
  • Sports stories
  • Romance stories
A little history
  • 1887 – Publisher’s Trade List
  • 16 pages – 440 authors and 900 books
  • Not popular with adults BUT very popular with intermediate and young adult readers
  • Divided along gender lines
  • Formula written
  • Stereotypical cardboard characters
  • Elsie Dinsmore
    28 volumes
  • Form peaked in mid-30s
Series books
  • Continuity is the key
    o Covers that look the same
    o Reading levels (often easy) that don’t vary
    o Main characters show little development
  • Marketed like a product
    o Build brand recognition
    o Covers are really important
  • Kids encouraged to collect the books and related licensed merchandise
  • Join clubs
    o Discuss with friends
Why series books are popular
  • Predictable and repetitive nature
    o Readers looking for the same experience each time
  • May provide needed escape
  • Familiarity
    o Characters
    o plot
  • Strong identification with one character
    o Capable of action, taking on adult responsibilities
Series books ...
  • Important stage in the development of independent reading
  • Minimizes the risk of reading
    o Readers not yet confident enough to make their own choice
    o The “what next” decision
    o “Getting into” a book is easier
  • Satisfaction is guaranteed
  • May provide first positive experience with books
    o Associate reading with pleasure
  • Encourage free voluntary reading
  • Great for less confident readers
  • Learn to read by reading
    o Literary competence
Categories of series books: five
  • #1 – character growth
    o Plots similar, but separate
    o e.g. Tolkien, LeGuin, L’Engle
  • #2 – strong, central character
    o Slight changes with each book
    o But order is usually unimportant
    o E.g. Cleary, Lowry, Danziger
  • #3 – strong, central character
    o But no change or development
    o E.g. Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys
  • #4 – imprint
    o Similar themes and story lines
    o But different character
    o E.g. Goosebumps, Fear Street
  • #5 – informational books
    o Tied together by content and/or layout and design
    o E.g. Eyewitness series
The Importance of bulk reading
  • Offers
    o Speed and comfort
    o Familiarity
    o Reassuring simplicity
    o Devotion to surface action
    o Complete absence of introspection
  • Advantages
    o Rapid change is frightening
    o Books may reassure
    o Life can be predictable and can be controlled
  • Learn ‘shape’ of stories
    o Plot
    o Climax
    o Resolution
    o Heroes and villains
  • Danger
    o Reader skims along
    o Never gets involved with book/character
    o Never deeply moved by a book
    o Miss out on a profoundly human experience
  • Don’t develop
    o Critical thinking
    o Imagination
    o Empathy for others
    o Love of language
  • More time spent with formula/patterned fiction
    o More difficult to make the transition
  • Literature demands more
    o More complex sentence structure
    o Larger vocabulary
    o Original storylines
    o More fully developed characters
  • After school/weekend
  • Video/computer games
  • Internet, etc. ...
Series and formula fiction: Nancy Drew
  • Plays upon restlessness and idealism
  • Shows pure fantasy
    o Power of youth
  • What’s it like to be 10 or 11?
    o Time hangs suspended ...
  • Best selling detective series in the world
  • Now covers all market segments
  • Was born in 1930
    o 10 years after American women got the vote
  • Almost superhuman capabilities
    o Nine lives?
  • Very powerful
    o Can do virtually anything
  • In danger
    o Uses “quick wits” and other mental tools
  • Adults are eternally grateful
    o Play minor roles
  • But she remains humble
  • Writing style
    o Full of clich├ęs, stilted writing
  • Themes
    o Glorification of youthful competence
    o Adult life is manageable – common sense
  • Resolution of adventure is unimportant
    o Weakest point of books
  • What does matter?
    o Excitement of narrative journey
  • Represents final stage
    o Reading about playing at being grown up
Proliferation of one parent families
  • Characters have time on their own
  • Can test themselves
  • May suffer from benign neglect
One parent families
  • Have more freedom
    o Can make mistakes
    o But also succeed
  • Fulfill longing of all children to test their own competence
Why should you stock series/formula fiction?
  • Kids like them
  • Fill out your collection’s need for high demand intermediate/young adult literature
    o Least output of time and money
  • Collection should meet needs of its users
  • Increase in circulation figures

Marilyn Cannaday wrote a biography of Lester Dent, Bigger than Life: the Creator of Doc Savage (Bowling Green State University Popular Press, c1990). Jason A. Walcott, of the University of Iowa, especially enjoyed the appendix items, and emailed newsgroups he belonged to in 1995 of one particular appendix item: Dent’s “template” for writing a pulp story, first published in a writer’s magazine in the fifties, explaining how to build your ‘yarn’.

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