1. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Formulaic writing...

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by NaCl, Jan 22, 2010.

    Have you ever heard of the ARKOFF formula for making successful low-budget movies? Do you think it might help get you published?

    Samuel Arkoff is responsible for the Beach Party and outlaw biker genres in the 50's, and spoof horror movies in 60's and 70s' as well as a couple classics like Amityville Horror. His studio, American International Pictures, produced classics like I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Blacula and Love at First Bite (my sister had a "bit" part in this one...no pun intended).

    When I was looking at his "ARKOFF Formula" and it's offshoot, "The Peter Pan Syndrome", it occurred to me that his market-targeted film formula would work just as well for writing books. Here it is in a nutshell and the link from which it came:

    A - action (exciting, entertaining drama)
    R - revolution (novel or controversial themes and ideas)
    K - killing (a modicum of violence)
    O - oratory (notable dialogue and speeches)
    F - fantasy (acted-out fantasies common to the audience)
    F - fornication (sex appeal, for young adults)

    The Peter Pan Syndrome basically says:

    a) a young child will watch anything an older child will watch;
    b) an older child will not watch anything a younger child will watch;
    c) a girl will watch anything a boy will watch
    d) a boy will not watch anything a girl will watch;
    therefore-to catch your greatest audience you zero in on the 19-year old male

    The above information is from:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_International_Pictures
     
  2. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    I wouldn’t think the 19-year-old male thing would transfer to books. I read somewhere that women who read romance burn through books like lunatics, outpacing everyone else by miles.
     
  3. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think Arkoff's conclusion in the Peter Pan Syndrome would apply to books, but his ARKOFF process of identifying and catering to a very well-defined market may work quite well. For example, using his reasoning, a writer could insert characteristics of the intended market next to each category. Let's say young women and romance novels.

    A - action (exciting, entertaining drama) Do young women like drama?
    R - revolution (novel or controversial themes and ideas) Nothing like good controversy to build interest in characters.
    K - killing (a modicum of violence) I know a lot of women who enjoy murder mysteries AND romance novels. I think there's a link in these genres.
    O - oratory (notable dialog and speeches) "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn." Famous words from from Daniel Selznick's movie Gone with the Wind...one of the oldest chick-flicks in history. I think women enjoy good dialog.
    F - fantasy (acted-out fantasies common to the audience) Oh yeah...vicariously acting out one's deepest fantasies might be very attractive to the romance fan crowd. Isn't that what romance books are ALL about?
    F - fornication (sex appeal, for young adults) Be honest, sex sells. Women must enjoy reading about sex in romance novels, otherwise it wouldn't be there in the millions of formulaic romance novels that sell each year.

    How bout another genre like old guys who enjoy war stories:

    A - action (exciting, entertaining drama) Pretty obvious.
    R - revolution (novel or controversial themes and ideas) War is loaded with controversial themes.
    K - killing (a modicum of violence) Uhhh...yeah...it IS a war story!
    O - oratory (notable dialogue and speeches) Here's a good one from General George Patton, "If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn't thinking." Lots of motivational quotes come out of war..."Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes." or "Remember the Alamo!"
    F - fantasy (acted-out fantasies common to the audience) Do good guys always win? They can in war stories. Wouldn't it be nice to see 'justice' be served on our captors? I think guys who enjoy war stories, enjoy seeing main characters kick...you know. It's the time-honored theme in fantasy of winning against terrible odds.
    F - fornication (sex appeal, for young adults) Old soldiers are not immune to sex content. Just watch the lecherous soldiers hoot and holler at scantily clad women at USO performances.

    The point is, a formula keeps a writer on track with regard to the genre's market. I suspect a publisher would appreciate such market focus.
     
  4. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Its definitely an interesting way of looking at it, and something I would agree with most of the time. And who would say no to a modicum of violence?
     
  5. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    Most genre lines have a formula in their submission guidelines. Though some use a different word for it. Harlequin calls their formulae "formats". Semantical splitting of hairs as far as I'm concerned. Once you get down to defining the maximum percentage of the book that is allowed to be from the male lead POV, you've got a formula -- or maybe a recipe -- as far as I'm concerned.
     
  6. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    No wonder all the Harlequin stuff "feels" the same...course, all Arkoff's beach party, rebel biker and spoof horror movies are the same way.
     
  7. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    Of course they all 'feel' the same. There's a reason for that. That is what the readers want. If they didn't all feel the same, they might gain readers from other demographics, but they'd lose readers from their core group. Harlequin takes "dance with the one who brung you" to heart. They never lose sight of who put them on top of the romance game.
     
  8. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    When you say 'the same', there are many different types of Harlequin formula--I would say 'guidelines' these days. I quote from a letter I received last year from Mills and Boon, which also manages Harlequin Historicals:

    'Are you open to innovation?

    Yes, definitely. These guidelines are just that, a guide to help you approach your writing. They are not definitive because we are always open to new ideas – such as first-person narratives or different settings and periods.'

    A writer does the best job when they write from the heart. Having a cynical attitude and trying to write to order is a real killer, I'd say. Not that I'm suggesting your idea about formats is cynical, Nac! A very broad format, that as you've shown can be adapted, can be useful.
     
  9. RomanticRose
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    There are many lines of Harlequin and M&B, but each line has its own format. Format is Harlequin's word, not mine. They are open to innovation in first v. third POV, settings, eras, etc, so long as the format is observed. Though they might like a first person from the female narrator, a first person from the male narrator would be unacceptable. And the obligatory happy ending is non-negotiable.
     

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