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What Is Formula Fiction?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated May 23, 2024
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Formula fiction is a type of fiction where multiple books or fictional works share many common elements, to the point of being ultimately predictable. One of the main characteristics of this type of fiction is the reuse of story and plot lines that contribute to a predictable narrative for each specific story. While this kind of fiction is often looked down on by critics and academics, some instances of this type of book appeal to a wide audience. A series of books that utilizes a strategy of formula fiction writing can end up providing a large number of people with entertaining reading for many years, partly because some audiences enjoy the predictable nature of these kinds of works.

One primary characteristic that many associate with formula fiction is a predictable setting. In some cases, experts call this genre fiction. For example, in the western genre, the setting is often an American western one, such as the Great Plains of the Midwest or an area of open ranching land. This sets the stage for protectable plot lines that can be recycled and reused within the same standard setting. Another example would be a set of mysteries set in the same city, or even in the same neighborhood.

Another very common element of formula fiction is a fixed set of characters. As readers follow a set of characters through many subsequent books or fictional works, the tendency toward formula fiction becomes strong. Without specific strategy on the part of the author, these types of books can become very formulaic, especially when the set of characters proceeds on the same kind of adventure within each book.

Experts on the publication of the continuing series note that it’s not uncommon for publishing houses to employ several different writers, or even dozens of different writers, to continue a formula fiction series. In many cases, the name of the first or initial writer will always be used on the covers of books as the stated author. In effect, the subsequent books will be ghostwritten by a set of writers who remain anonymous to the public. Because the styles of such works are so often easily copied, this type of publishing can be done over a number of years to produce dozens of titles that will continue to sell on fiction markets.

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