In this two-page outline for the 1927 Hardy Boys mystery The House on the Cliff, Edward Stratemeyer directed writer Leslie McFarlane in the construction of the plot of the second book in the franchise’s original series. The book was officially published as the work of Franklin W. Dixon, a fictional author whose name appears on all of the Hardy Boys books.
Stratemeyer, who grew up reading the Horatio Alger and Oliver Optic book series, was himself a writer of boys’ fiction. As Meghan O’Rourke wrote in the New Yorker in 2004, Stratemeyer was publishing his own series fiction—the Rover Boys, the Motor Boys—when he figured out a way to bridge two oppositional strains of children’s literature: “the nineteenth century’s moralistic tradition and the dime novel’s frontier adventures.” Stratemeyer’s books would be sold in hardback, thereby appearing “respectable” to parents, while containing adventure stories that were just as appealing to kids as cheap stories of the dime novel type.
In the first decade of the 20th century, Stratemeyer formed the Stratemeyer Syndicate. As the head of this group, he commissioned writers to create quickly written, formulaic juvenile novels. Authors like McFarlane received outlines like the one below, and returned book manuscripts within a month. “Stratemeyer checked the manuscript for discrepancies, made sure that each book had exactly fifty jokes, and cut or expanded as needed,” writes O’Rourke. The syndicate’s popular properties included Tom Swift, the Bobbsey Twins, and Nancy Drew, as well as many that are now unfamiliar, like the Outdoor Girls, the Motion Picture Chums, and the Kneetime Animal Stories.
James Keeline, who researchs the history of the Syndicate and granted me permission to run these scans of the Hardy Boys document, has put several other Stratemeyer outlines up on his site.