Formulas in Storytelling

There is nothing wrong with a good formula. I read an article a while ago that said something to the effect of “There are only seven stories, and we’ve been reading and watching them over and over for hundreds of years.” (There are also, like, 5 characters types which are the 5 personalities in detention in a 1984 movie directed by John Hughes even the other characters in the movie fall into the categories depicted by the main cast, but that’s a different blog post.)

For example, Star Wars and Harry Potter are the same story. It’s the Over Coming the Monster story, the Hero’s quest. The Wizard of Oz and The Hobbit are “voyage and return” stories. These stories have the same plot outlines, and comparisons can be drawn between these, but taking a step back and digesting the stories as whole pieces instead of just the bones, the stories are dramatically different. Harry and Luke Skywalker both go on a quest to defeat the world’s biggest evil of the time, but the story stories differ dramatically as to how the authors get their main characters there. Shrek also falls into this category, but I think we can all agree that Shrek and Harry Potter are a little bit different.

So when does this become problematic in my opinion?

I read mostly YA literature. Quite a bit of it tends to fall into troupes and can become formulaic to a fault after a while. It feels like you’re reading the same book over and over.

I feel that this is a huge issue with YA fantasy, it’s basically the same plot with little deviation between series. It feels, to me, that if I read one high fantasy YA novel, I’ve read all of them, only the character names are different. The same things happen: a parent dies, the teenage child must defend the dead parent’s honor, with an unlikely companion they go off on an adventure, the main character finds out they have some kind of power, but not only that they have the STRONGEST power that has been seen in a long time if ever.  It can get boring kind of quickly if I read enough of them. It’s the Defeat the Monster, Hero’s quest story, but unlike Star Wars and Harry Potter, it feels like the same story.

Does that make sense?

I’m going to use a couple examples of books that I’ve read recently. Ever the Hunted and FrostbloodBoth books I have reviewed here in the not too distant past.

 

I mentioned this is my review of Frostblood, that it had most of not all of the same elements of Hunted but pulled them off better. The two stories follow almost the exact same storyline. Even the amount of traveling between places and going back to certain places is very similar. There are a few substitutes and a little bit of a change of scenery, but they read almost identically.

I sure that there are people who can look at Harry Potter and Star Wars and say the same thing, but I don’t see Harry Potter as Star Wars if there were wizards. There are different elements that make each of those stories uniquely those stories that aren’t just the character names. One that stands out to me is that Harry isn’t naturally super talented having never picked up a wand. He is talented, and has a great deal of natural talent but isn’t out of the Dursley’s and casting Patronus charms. He has to work for it and does work for it. Many things come easy, but he works for it sometimes reluctantly. Luke is given a Lightsaber after coming off the moisture farm is the greatest of all time, and he’s pretty into it the whole time.

Reading Hunted and Frostblood I felt like I was reading the same book, and I honestly feel that way when reading a lot of YA fantasy novels. They rely too heavily on the formula and don’t create enough originality. It’s hard to separate the stories. I feel like I should mention that it’s not the writing that’s the problem. Both books are very well written, the authors are incredibly talented.

Fantasy is a genre that I could never write. There’s a lot that goes into it, world building isn’t a strong point of mine. As much as I would love to be talented enough to write something like either of the two books I’ve mentioned, I don’t have the writing chops. I know a lot of work goes into creating the world, but I feel like the basic formula needs to be built upon to get that one of a kind fantasy story that stands out in a world drowning in YA fantasy stories.

I also read a lot of YA romance, and a lot by the same author, many of those books are set in the same town. Although many follow the same or very similar storylines, I don’t feel like I’m reading the same book except one character really loves french fries and one loves music. These kinds of books can fall into troupe instead of storyline very quickly too. I’ve been lucky in being able to find books that are just different enough to feel like different books.

What is it about YA fantasy that makes it feel so formulaic? Is it that there have been so many in a short period of time that they drown each other out?

What do you think? Do you feel like some genres fall too hard on the formula and not enough on making it different? 

Until next time Internet,

Deanna

 

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2 thoughts on “Formulas in Storytelling”

  1. Hi Deanna, great topic! But you know YA is not the only genre using formulas. Classic romance has several “used” tropes too. Of course I do prefer when authors have a fresh intake on topics or surprise me but I can perfectly enjoy a “used” trope if the author is gifted. Now what is being gifted? Well I have to walk in the character’s shoes. I have to breathe, eat and sleep with them. I have to forget reality. Even if you surprise me but your characters have no depth or I can’t connect with them the book is lost on me. So gift before suprise for me. And both = nirvana 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know it’s not just YA, but I feel more qualified to talk about YA than other categories because I know more and have read more of it. Every author uses the basic formulas, I think it’s being able to step away from the story and not see it as a “stick the character in troupe” This post started as a pet peeves of YA post and turned in a weird direction by the end so I just went with it

      Like

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