Saturday, February 20, 2010

In Defense of Formula Writing

While a university professor, I taught classes for aspiring teachers on children’s literature. I love fine literature of the children’s sort as well as adult. But, I am not a literary snob.

For my own children, I bought Eric Carle and his ilk, but I also bought the Goosebumps and Animorph series. Of my own literary diet, I like to say that I have some junk food along with the gourmet. Why, you might ask, would I support feeding my children the equivalent of junk food literature?

Working with struggling readers and later with the teachers of struggling readers for so many years, I observed that way too many kids didn’t know how to think along with text as they were reading. They didn’t know their brains were supposed to be busy processing and questioning and wondering along with the author.

I believe that most of us (I can’t say all, of course—but the majority from my analysis) became “active readers” (those who process, question, and wonder) at the feet of Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Goosebumps, et al. Reading those formula books inculcated the basics of story structure, because, believe me, when I was a child eons ago, no teacher addressed those elements now taught in kindergarten.

Through Nancy’s struggles (which I always knew she would overcome, the fun was in how she’d do it this time), I learned about plot structure, how important connecting to characters is, and how necessary a satisfying conclusion is to the reader. To this day, I read formula writing. I love culinary mysteries.

When I read my first Diane Mott Davidson, I was hooked. She is the reigning queen. And his court is studded with others almost like her whom I also read. Why, you might wonder, does someone who enjoys award-winning literary fiction read highly commercial fiction? Because, even though I know how it will end, the trip there is still fun.

You live with characters in series fiction, genre fiction. You know how they will react from your familiarity with them and rejoice when you learn more of their back story. Even though you know them, you always find out more in each book.

I am currently writing a culinary mystery in my “Dinner is Served” series with personal chef partners Gina and Allie. Go to my website to read an excerpt at and let me know what you think.

You know, the reading of genre fiction is easy, but the writing . . . not so much. I have a lot of respect for “Carolyn Keene” keeping me reeled in with Nancy for so many years.

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