Thursday 12 May 2011

Do you like to doof doof?

So, er, I'm reading a Jodi Picoult novel. I've read quite a few, actually, because despite not really being into 'pop' fiction, she somehow manages to get me so involved in her books that I can't stop reading. But I'm not here today to talk about her hooks. I'm here to talk about something that a friend of mine mentioned about her stuff recently and got me thinking. She said that although she loves her books, she can't read one after the other because they seem to all have the same formula.

Yes, they do. And this formula she uses has given her great success. Aspiring authors want to write like her, to create a story so intense that it's impossible to put down. But 'formula' isn't necessarily a good thing, I think. Being a fan of literary fiction, if I were to read multiple books of hers in a row, I would get bored, because there's no DYNAMIC PROSE.

So, I like to see Jodi as a 'story-teller.' She is a master at story-telling, as is Marian Keyes, Lisa Jewel and Nick Hornby. To me these folks are pop writers. They make money by sticking to a formula that will lure the masses, just like pop music does. There is nothing wrong with this. Nothing at all. And I, on occasion can't wait to get stuck into a bit of pop. Even with music, sometimes I can really do with a bit Madonna, as opposed to PJ Harvey. Sometimes I just need to dance, to get into the groove.

It's the same with books. But! Who do I admire more? PJ Harvey, for sure. Because she gives me soul and makes me think and makes me smile and makes me cry. She makes me want to listen over and over to the layers of melody and instrumentalization. She doesn't give me doof doof doof, quick gimme another song to dance to, quick gimme another shot of vodka so I can keep feeling this thrill. She makes me appreciate very single note, every single lyric. So, my point, I guess, is that's what I prefer in books too. Even though I do like to break it up on occasion with a bit of formulaic pop.

How about you? Are you pro pop or do you like to dig deeper? Do you think there's a difference between writing and storytelling? What authors have you read that you think stick to a formula? Are you able to read many of their books in a row without starting to feel it's all becoming predictable?


  1. I usually don't read just one author's books in a row like that. There's something to say for formula - the reader always knows what to expect.

    And I like both commercial and literary with a high concept. I love when a commercial books digs deeper with heart and soul - those are the books that stay with me.

  2. I'm not really a gimmicky person, so repetitive formula work on my nerves if I read too many different books with the same formulae.

    I don't mind one at a time, but I love books that give me meaning.


    Funny, I actually read the back covers of Jodi's books and noticed how they all felt alike. Decided to give her a skip yet again...

  3. I don't want my reading to be too complex, but I'm not a fan of formula. Preston and Child seem fresh every time, although Timothy Zahn's Star Wars books become formula after a while. And as a musician, I can't stand formula music! Big fan of prog rock because it's so diverse and unique.

  4. I like to get a little bit of everything. Beautiful Literary novels are the ones that truly stick with me, but I don't mind a little Ken Follett or Robert Ludlum from time to time.

    There's nothing wrong with a formula if it works.

  5. Enjoyed the read Jessica,

    Have a good day.

  6. Every author has certain themes they keep coming back to, I think. And we ALL write formula -- a la Aristotle!

    This is why I'm not to keen on the label 'pop' or 'commercial fiction'. To me, it lessens it. At the end of the day, we're all storytellers.

  7. Pop comes in handy when you want to "check out" and not think. But I like to dig deeper. I want meaning and creativity and inspiration.

  8. There's definitely a place on my bookshelves for both. Though, when I dream of writing my own book, it's the layers of deep, thematic and thought-provoking prose I want to write. Great post, Jess!

  9. Normally I stick to one genre- YA Fantasy which I guess could have a formula. But I also break it up with something different every once in a while. I'll throw in a super formulaic romance novel too- I'm ready some Julia Quinn books and they're cute even thought they're predictable. We all need a little change every once in a while.

  10. I'm with you Jessica, I enjoy reading books or watching films with a formula, but I have a stronger appreciation for stories that use a different approach. The formula is fun. I'm not ashamed to admit that I really like romantic comedy flicks but I couldn't watch 50 in a row without groaning how predictable it is.

  11. I usually cannot stand books written to a formula - however I don't believe there's really formulas so much as the same setup of character roles. That gets old really quick. I'd love to talk to you more about this sometimes, actually. I try very hard to mix things up in my fiction. Monarch, so far, seems to have been the most "formulaic" thing I've written - however, I think I do it in a way that levels it out since it's told from three POVs.

  12. I used to read Katie Fforde books but got bored with them - she uses the same forumla in every book. Whilst I can see that has brought her success, I want to read something different.

    Thought-provoking post!

    Ellie Garratt

  13. When I need to read for a break like this I read Evanovich or Patterson, depending on my mood

  14. Sarah Dessen's books all have a similar feel to me but I adore each one that I read. She's a great storyteller and I usually end up teary eyed at least once during her stories.

  15. This is INSANE!!! My MIL is visiting and just asked me if I've ever read any JP novels, and I said no! And she basically said what you just said...

    AND my Thursday post used one of those little tweeny boppers to make a writing point!!!

    It's like were the SAME PERSON!!!

    sort of. ;p

    and I'm pro pop, but I'm really more just pro a good story that makes me think and sticks with me for a while. Be that where it may~ <3

  16. have fun reading.

    love your blog.

    check out short story slam and make a submission today.

  17. There are definitely some formulas that I love like J.D. Robb's futuristic mysteries and can read over and over. Then there are some, like Nicholas Sparks that make me cringe and I can't pick up another book. Same with music there's some pop that's great and fun like Madonna and others, like the fellow pictured, who are not to my taste and I flip the station each time I hear the opening notes.

    Excellent, thought-provoking post.

  18. Good post. I haven't picked up Jodi Piccoult yet, but surely I will since I'm in a book club and I think it's nearly impossible to make it through without selecting one of her books.

    Re. your questions - I generally prefer to dig deeper, but there are certainly times that I just want a little light pop reading. On flights, during vacation, late at night when I'm tired but can't sleep yet - those are the times when I want to fall into an easy little story that doesn't require much thought.

    Yes, absolutely think there's a difference between writing and storytelling! I've read some incredible stories written in a mediocre voice, and I've read some boring and dull stories written impeccably.

    I haven't read too many authors lately who stick to a formula, but back in my middle schools days, I was addicted to a couple of formulas - one was the Nancy Drew series (still think it's great regardless) and the other was anything Mary Higgins Clark. I eventually quit reading Clark because her formulas bored me, and I think I'd do the same now. I think my max is 2-3 books before I wouldn't go back to the writer ...


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