Hardy Writing: Tips from Franklin W. Dixon

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.

Characterless Characters
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!


31 thoughts on “Hardy Writing: Tips from Franklin W. Dixon”

  1. …pretty hysterical. But I loved reading Hardy Boys books when I was younger (I wasn’t one for any of that Nancy Drew stuff. Not enough action :P). Plus, Franklin W. Dixon was a pen name for a number of authors who worked for the publishing company and collectively wrote the 58 books in the series. So, there is no Mr. Dixon to blame, entirely.
    But yeah. That was pretty funny. However, it just brings to mind the mildly depressing fact that something doesn’t have to be “quality work” for it to be incredibly successful.

    1. Yeah, I knew (and before that, guessed) that “Franklin W. Dixon” was just a cover name for a bunch of ghostwriters – hence my note at the beginning about author vs. authors. :)

      Your right, though: success isn’t always equaled by quality. Which is why the latest trashy romance novel and the latest cliched pot-boiler still manage to make the NY Times bestseller list. *facepalm*

  2. Brilliant! I read quite a lot of them when I was younger. Of course, it took our power being out for me to read them in the first place. :D Good post.

      1. Maybe he dreamed of getting captured, miraculously escaping via a blunder on the bad guys part, and solving a mystery with his good friends. But that’s just maybe. :D

  3. “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.”

    Lol. Sad but true.

    1. I read Nancy Drew until I discovered Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. There was no going back. LOL! I bet. :) I read the Hardy Boys until I discovered Sherlock Holmes. Like you, there was no going back.

      You asked how I knew what a glue stick tastes like… that information is classified. ;)

  4. That completely cracked me up… I read those books like crazy when I was younger. *blush* (Never could stand Nancy Drew, though, even then. :P) Picked one up the other day and wondered how on earth I had managed to read so many, lol.

    I will say though, that the original series (the ones written in the 30’s, which were “updated” later) there were, every so often – very rarely, but still – tiny hints of actual personality. That was back when they were 15 and 17, and Frank actually tried to look out for his little brother – I found it kind of sweet. :D

    It is just a tiny bit scary how successful those books have been, though… :P

  5. 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 It is the area right below the ribs but right above the stomach. And you will, and repeat will, double over.

    1. For the longest time, I had no clue was the “solar plexus” was; finally, I looked it up and went “Aha! So that’s what it is.” I guess it just annoys me when authors have their characters take down bad guys the same way every… single… time… :)

  6. My maiden name is Hardy, and my two of my three brothers (who read and read those books, by the way, as I read The Bobbsey Twins), used the name The Hardy Boys to start a summer painting business when they were in high school. I think one of them still has all of the copies at his place, just for nostalgia sake.

    1. I believe I read The Bobbsey Twins books at one time or another – and, as far as I can recall, enjoyed them. Interesting that those books aren’t as well known as Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys.

  7. Haha!! Awesome! I did use to read Hardy Boys, but in my defense it did take me an hour or less to get through the books. :)

    Now if you could just write something like that for the Elsie Dinsmore books…oh wait, being a guy you’ve been spared the hell of those books. Congratulate yourself. :)

    1. I did use to read Hardy Boys, but in my defense it did take me a hour or less to get through the books. Et tu, Amy? :) I’d read several of them a day; I guess that’s how it works with feather-light fiction, huh?

      And no, I have not had the, um, pleasure of reading Elsie Dinsmore – being a guy and all, you understand. Those books aren’t exactly high on my TBR list… ;)

      1. Haha yes! I’d get five from the library, expecting them to last a week, and be done by morning.

        Oh, they should be at the very top of your TBRWNAR list. (To Be Read When Needing A Rant) ;)
        At least make sure your sisters never get a chance to read them. :)

    1. Haven’t read anything by Alger, but I do enjoy a bit of Henty’s work (particularly In Freedom’s Cause, which is the Scottish epic that Braveheart should have been). He does get fairly predictable at times, but I can say that even his worst work is infinitely better than anything in the Hardy Boys series.

  8. I love the hardy boys please do not insult my favorite mystery series of all times!! way better than Drew and Belden I will always read the hardy boys plus I own the whole original series so when I finishes one I get one off the shelf no sweat THE HARDY BOYS ARE THE BEST

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