Guide to Literary Terms

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What is a literary formula?

A literary formula is a standard plot structure many literary works use.


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Last Updated May 26, 2023.

In literary terms, a formula refers to a fixed or recurring pattern, structure, or motif commonly used in storytelling. Formulas can be found in various genres, including folklore, mythology, and popular fiction. They provide a familiar framework that audiences recognize and can enhance their engagement with the narrative. 

Formula comes from the Latin word forma, meaning "form."

An example of a common formula is the "rags to riches" plot, which is used in stories ranging from the fairy tale of Cinderella to Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist. "Once upon a time..." is another common formula.

The formula sets the stage for a magical or imaginative story, signaling to the reader or listener that they are about to enter a world of fantasy and wonder. The formulaic phrase creates a sense of familiarity and invites the audience to engage with the narrative by drawing upon their expectations and knowledge of traditional storytelling structures. This formula allows the reader or listener to quickly orient themselves within the narrative and anticipate the story's unfolding.

see: plot

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