Like many guys, there was a time when my reading endeavors were devoted almost exclusively to the Hardy Boys. It is, unfortunately, time that I will never get back; but it has caused me to wonder what sort of writing advice the author (or perhaps, authors) would give to curious fans. The following is a work of fiction, but it’s what I imagine Mr. Dixon would say, given the *cough* quality of his books.
For many writers, crafting memorable characters is like working with clay. I’m here to tell you there’s another, better material to work with: cardboard.
Don’t laugh. Cardboard offers a cleaner, easier way of doing things – you won’t have to deal with the messier aspects of your character because there won’t be any! Grab some scissors, do some snipping, and voila! your insubstantial, unconvincing, two-dimensional cutouts are ready for any adventure you have in store for them. What more could you ask?
And of course, the best cutouts are the ones that think they aren’t. Take my characters, Frank and Joe Hardy, for example – two chaps who run around a 58-book series under the illusion that they’re interesting. Their personalities have the approximate flavor of a glue-stick and can essentially be broken down this way – Frank has dark hair, and Joe is blonde.
There may not be much to ’em, but who really cares? Depth, complexity, realism – it’s all overrated. These guys are memorable because of how forgettable they are; exceptional by virtue of their profound mediocrity. It’s magic.
A Recipe for Formulaic Fiction
When it comes to storytelling, there’s no need to worry about repeating yourself. Heck, I repeated myself over fifty times and still managed to make the bestseller list. I mean, if you’ve read one of my books, you’ve read them all – but that doesn’t seem to stop people from reading them all anyway.
Formulaic writing is my specialty. Why spend blood, sweat, and tears on a fresh story when I can rewrite what I’ve already written? Nefarious plots for world domination (or something like that); mentally-retarded criminal masterminds; dangerous thugs who never last long in a fist-fight; and countless near-death experiences for Frank and Joe, usually by way of falling objects. Bad guys like to drop things on people, don’t you know.
And let’s not forget all the clues, conveniently dropped around like cookie crumbs for our heroes to find. We wouldn’t want the case to, y’know, challenge them. Throw in a ton of cliff-hangers that don’t really leave anyone hanging, and you’ve almost got it made. Just one more thing…
Rock ’em Sock ’em
Action. In all of my stories, there comes a time when it behooves the heroes to go around inflicting damage with their well-sculpted arms. The mysteries which Frank and Joe set out to solve inevitably end in a bout of fisticuffs – no matter that each fight is essentially the same as all the others.
When it comes to describing a manly bit of physical confrontion, it’s wise to have the persons involved do a lot of grunting. Make sure the villains go down after one or two neatly-placed jabs – you don’t want your heroes to run any risk of serious (or fatal) injury. Last but not least: always, always have someone get punched in the solar plexus. You may not be entirely sure what the solar plexus is, but punching it is a surefire way to get your bad guys doubled-over and gasping for air – after which they will happily offer a full confession.
Having subdued the opposition and brought another criminal to justice, your heroes can congratulate themselves on a job well done… until they just happen to stumble upon another mystery. One which promises (like all the others) to be the most challenging case of their careers!