Beach Reads
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The Comfort of Formula

I try to avoid formulaic stories when I write. Formulas are the opposite of original, after all, and originality is the thing we all strive for. When I intentionally use a trope, it is usually for the purpose of subverting or poking fun at it.

As a consumer of media, however, I occasionally find formulaic stories comforting. There may not be much originality in a police procedural — only the characters seem to differentiate one from another and sometimes even those are archetypal — but I often find myself watching them when my mind is too preoccupied to consume something that requires more attention and focus, or when I am working on something so that my attention is divided.

There is something comforting in a formula, in knowing how the story is going to end before the opening credits roll or before you open the book. This is the kind of media we turn to when we’re not looking to expand our mind but instead to relax it. They don’t need or provoke the desire to engage in deep analysis, there’s no need to look any deeper than the surface of the story. These are the books we pack for reading on the beach, the shows we watch while doing our house chores, the noise we let drone on in the background to drown out anxious thoughts when trying to go to sleep.

In a police procedural, you know the criminal will be caught. In a romance novel, you know that the couple will get together in the end.

As easy as it is to look down on formulas for their lack of originality, you have to appreciate that there is a reason they are so successful, why audiences continue to consume formulaic stories in volume. Writers of formulaic stories are also often some of the most prolific.

There’s a place out there for both types of stories, for both types of writers. There is a market for both originality and formula, and for those somewhere between.