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Nicholas Sparks Sucks and You Know It

Does anyone care about Nicholas Sparks?

Yes. Apparently a lot of people do. Sparks is a 21-time published author, his stories have been adapted on screen in major motion pictures that have grossed well over $100 million in the box office, and his name is about as household as Stephen King's. 

But there's always been something particularly fascinating about Nicholas Sparks and his devoted audience. To put it simply: if you've seen one Nicholas Sparks-inspired film, you've seem them all. And when Sparks stories are looked at through a more critical eye, one has to wonder why anyone watches them at all.

An author like King, for instance, is older and more seasoned to the trade; yet Sparks' work has been adapted to film an incredible amount, relative to how long he's even been published. Look at it in a much broader context to understand the craze surrounding Sparks; Shakespeare has been adapted over 800 times in cinema, Hemingway 56, Dr. Suess about 70, and Stephen King has had over 125 titles adapted.

King is clearly in a whole other ballpark when it comes to movie adaptions. (There's an entire page listing them online). And granted, Sparks hasn't had an adaption in nearly two years but it doesn't make him any less apropos to the novel-to-film discussion.

Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling in 'The Lucky One' (2012) [Source: Warner Bros. Pictures]

Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling in 'The Lucky One' (2012) [Source: Warner Bros. Pictures]

There have been roughly thirteen Nicholas Sparks adaptations but think of it like this: his first novel was only published in 1996. A Walk to Remember (2002) and The Notebook (2004) are the two adaptions that ignited Sparks-mania in cinema, and among the lucky novels to make their way to the screen are The Last Song (2010), The Lucky One (2012), The Best of Me (2014), The Longest Ride (2015), and The Choice (2016).

These all sort of sound similar, right? They do, and they should, because the recipe for a Sparks story has remained fairly consistent. His novels (and screenplays alike) are always painfully dramatic with a tough male lead, someone is almost always bound to die, and (as an added bonus) some kind of military hero is likely to appear.

This is because Sparks sticks to his tropes and, objectively, has a pretty mundane style of writing that can be illustrated as traditional, conservative, and white. His leading men (especially on screen) have been described as "ethnically indistinguishable" and simple "white Christians who look good without a shirt". Even worse, Sparks' females are rarely empowering and are almost always damsels in distress, waiting to be emotionally saved by the aforementioned male lead. 

It of course would not be fair to ignore where other writers have also had shortcomings. Let's compare Sparks to his contemporary Stephen King, once again, though they differ in genre. For every fantastic King story there are twice as many bad ones. Some of his stories have stuck to the same basic principles as well, and there are many instances of both triumphs and failures on King's resume. But the reason King may fail is because of a trait Sparks seems to lack; and that trait is experimentation.

Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth in 'The Last Song' (2010) [Source: Walt Disney Studios]

Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth in 'The Last Song' (2010) [Source: Walt Disney Studios]

Romance is different, and that may be why Nicholas Sparks is so prevalent in the first place. If we were to specifically define the Romance genre, the traits we'd mention would have to do with love between two people (almost always a heterosexual man and woman) with an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending", as Wikipedia defines it. You would be hard-pressed to find a Sparks' work that did not fit this description to a T. 

In his personal life, Sparks has been accused of making racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic comments to the former headmaster of his Global Studies school. The undeniable heteronormative, white narratives he produces are noticeably stemmed from a writer with such—to put it lightly—traditional beliefs. And interestingly, Sparks only writes powerful love stories, but he himself is divorced.

But critiquing Sparks' work and own personal life is not nearly as telling as critiquing his audience. Sure, Sparks' stories are all heteronormative, male-driven, and painfully predictable, but it's his fans that continue funding the craze. A glossy love tale with characters an audience is "comfortable" with leaves no room for after-thoughts, applicable scenarios, "uncomfortable" storylines and characters, or any kind of thought-provoking narrative. 

It's clear that audiences don't want anything that will make their head hurt too much. They're comfortable with a shiny, traditional love story between white males and females. All of this is true, considering the popularity of an author like Sparks. 

Readers have read the exact same love story twenty-one times now from Sparks. And they'll keep doing it, too. Because Nicholas Sparks' writing is comfortable, a safe-haven, and exactly the opposite of pioneering work.