Course 1—Lecture

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Literature Matters: Why we read
Why do we love to lose ourselves in a good book? What does literature say to us? In this Lecture, we'll address those questions. We'll also talk about the difference between serious fiction and pulp fiction—and why that difference matters.

Reading
Alicia d' Marvel— Calculating Love, Chapters 12, 15, 16
Kate Chopin—"The Story of an Hour"


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Literature matters . . .
it has something to tell us.
—Donald Kartigan
The Fragile Thread

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The question is . . .


What does it tell us?
Literature is the great tool for understanding our lives and the lives of others.
—Ellen Douglas
The Tragedy of Othello


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Literature tells us about life.

It helps us understand our own lives and how others see their lives. It broadens our perspective and emphasizes the immense variety of life.

We need literature—
because we can never live enough to investigate all of life on our own.

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The pleasure of reading

Like Alice falling into her rabbit hole, we fall into our books. We burrow underground hour after hour, losing track of time and the world around us.

Sometimes we read for escape. Other times we choose books that challenge us—teaching us something new . . . or a new way of seeing the world.

Literature fulfills both roles.

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Some literature
is created solely for entertainment. It never challenges us. Its very purpose is to lull us into cozy complacency—it is pure escapism.

Escapist literature confirms our basic assumptions and expectations of life—the way we wish it really were. Readers of escapist fiction can count on . . .

beautiful people
exotic surroundings
happy endings


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A "good read" is fun!
But after a while we hanker for more—more substance . . . more variety . . . more creativity.

We want literature to reflect the way life is, the way we actually experience it. We know that . . .

People are psychologically complex
Truth is ambiguous, not black & white
Life is full of unintended consequences.

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Types of Literature
We have, then, two general categories of fiction:

Escapist Fiction: Also called formulaic fiction because it follows a formula prescribed by marketing experts at publishing houses. Publishers know exactly what readers like and what makes money.

Imaginative Fiction: Writing that flows from the author's creative imagination. It offers more in terms of serious ideas and deeper, richer meanings.


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A Tale of Two Fictions

Formulaic

Shallow characters and unvarying plots.
Pure escape from everyday life.
Author motivated by desire to make money.
Reaffirms our basic views about life.

Imaginative

Complex characters and innovative plots.
Deeper meanings and insights into life.
Author motivated by creative expression.
Challenges and broadens our views.


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Tip Sheets

Publishers of formulaic fiction issue tip sheets on request to authors who want to write for them.

Tip Sheets . . .
provide specific rules for the basic elements— character, plot, setting—that go into a formulaic romance, detective story, or western.

The next 5 slides contain some basic tip sheet requirements for formulaic romance novels.


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Tip Sheets—Heroine

Age—in her late 20's
Appearance—stunningly attractive: well propor-tioned but slender; "coltish," even girlish.
Personality—perky, independent, smart (but not intellectual); eventually submits to her man; will cry when appropriate.
Motivation—love first, career second; competent and ambitious, but never grasping.

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Tip Sheets—Hero

Age—in his late 30's (must be older than heroine)
Appearance—good-looking, well-built, use words like "hard" for musculature and "dark" for eyes or facial expressions.
Personality—strongly masculine, confident, in charge of his world and those around him.
Status—successful, affluent (better yet, wealthy), sophisticated tastes in food, clothes and gadgets. The kind of man you don't know but wish you did.

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Tip Sheets—Setting

Glamorous locales, the beautiful places where readers fantasize living . . .
 Urban—New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris... chic, beautiful cities around the globe.
Scenic—coasts (the Mediterranean or Pacific); hills and mountains (Tuscany, the Alps); wherever the fashionable gather.
Probably not where you live. Definitely not where I live.

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Tip Sheets—Plot

Driven by growing attraction between lovers. Tension is created by uncertainties in their feelings toward one another; they may dislike each other at first.
Pattern of complications and misunderstandings followed by reconciliation.
Fast-paced—not bogged down by long political, philosophical discussions or detailed descriptions (except clothing).

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Tip Sheets—Love Scenes

Romantic sensability—use a "soft focus," nothing overtly or anatomically graphic.
Lovers may have sex—but only once or twice; there must be no hint of promiscuity for either.
Loves scenes follow a pattern—first, after a period of doubt; again, after a misunderstanding and estrangement.

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Congratulations!
You've reached the end of the Lecture. To continue LitCourse 1, click "Readings" on the Course Tools menu to the right.

• Calculating Love (an excerpt from a novel)
Alicia d'Marvel

• "The Story of an Hour"
Kate Chopin


I am indebted to Michael Meyer's wonderful discussion of formulaic fiction in The Bedford Introduction to Literature, 5th edition (Bedford/St. Martin's Press, 1999).

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