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… author Nicholas Sparks knows he shouldn’t fix it. His formula for sappy love stories gone wrong continues to make movie magic.

ASIDE, PERHAPS, from William Shakespeare, Nicholas Sparks is widely considered the master of the tragic love story, having sold a whopping 60 million copies of his 15 romance novels. Of those, five have been turned into films, with a sixth in theaters now (The Last Song, starring Miley Cyrus) and two more currently in development. But even though Sparks maintains that his novels are largely autobiographical — based on real events from his own life or those of his family members — we couldn’t help but notice that these works of fiction and their resulting films are astonishingly formulaic. We track some of the similarities. (Spoiler alert: Some basic plot points are revealed below.)

Autobio-graphical element Unexpected love between damaged protagonists Epistolary element North Carolina setting Surprise illness or death
Message in a Bottle (1999): Inspired by Sparks’ father Garret, a widower, and Theresa, a single mother, embark on an unforeseen romance. The characters’ relationship develops when Theresa discovers letters Garret wrote to his late wife. Wilmington, NC Drowning
A Walk to Remember (2002): Inspired by Sparks’ sister A popular teenage boy, Landon, falls for Jamie, a shy bookworm with a secret. X Beaufort, NC Leukemia
The Notebook (2004): Inspired by Sparks’ wife’s grandparents Young lovers, Allie and Noah, reconnect years later in a surprising fashion. Every day for a year, Noah writes letters to Allie, who doesn’t receive them until they are later reunited. North Carolina coastal town Alzheimer’s
Nights in Rodanthe (2008): Parallels Sparks’ own courtship with his wife Paul, a grieving surgeon, and Adrienne, a sad divorcée, develop an unexpected bond. When Paul leaves Adrienne to be with his son, the lovers exchange longing letters. Rodanthe, NC Fatal mudslide
Dear John (2010): Inspired by Sparks’ cousin An unanticipated relationship develops between a pair of war-torn lovers, John and Savannah. While John is off at war, he and Savannah communicate through letters. Wilmington and Lenoir, NC Asperger’s Syndrome, cancer
The Last Song (2010): X Over the course of a summer, a teenage girl finds romance and reconciles with her estranged father. X Wrightsville Beach, NC Cancer