Why does the book I’m reading seem familiar?

477-197-2012-12-10967858Unusually for me, this post is a long one, (over a thousand words). So please bear with me and read it in its entirety. If you are a writer, the subject matters. Thank you.

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When it comes to the way you write, how original are you? These days so many of the books on offer sadly lack originality. Sometimes while reading a new book, if it’s got our attention, and we’re not drifting off bored out of our minds with the book about to fall from our hands, we say to ourselves, “wait a minute, this book reminds me of something I read about X recently. In fact I’d swear its almost a carbon copy of a newspaper report I read a few months back.” This is not necessarily a bad thing. Often newspaper and magazines articles spark an idea. But using the article in its entirety might be seen by a court of law as a case of blatant plagiarism, in other words copying large amounts of someone else’s work, claiming it as you’re own. This is just one aspect of the lack of originality these days.

Being original hardly seems to matter to a lot of today’s crop of writers, whether Indie or establishment. Many simply don’t bother, preferring to churn out whatever is currently popular, or trendy. Far too many writers are tempted to follow a formula, such as in the often tasteless pot boiler love stories, or totally predictable horror and crime stories that flood the world’s bookshelves. Take it from me when I say to you, leave that kind of writing to ghost writers paid by the word. It may be popular, but it hardly taxes the reader’s brain, plus it does your reputation as a writer no good at all to be associated with this kind of book. Remember, you will always be judged by what you write and as a consequence, either be written off, or accepted. You must rise above the mob. Not an easy thing to do.

In the case of the establishment writers, if they wish to remain employed, in a growing number of cases, what they write is largely dictated by what their publishers want. What a boring existence.

Recently a good friend of mine in the US plucked up the courage to submit her excellent fantasy novel – A Ranger’s Tale to a site called The Review Board to have it scrutinised, and to have fair minded reviews written about it. One particular reviewer stated that, “I have a few niggles about originality and character motivations, but nothing that prevented me from getting embroiled in the conflict.”

Another reviewer said, ” this story has several familiar elements throughout,” listing the following to show exactly what they meant: World of Warcraft for time setting purposes, Final Fantasy IX (for time setting purposes, as well as the cast of colorful characters reminiscent of those in the story), Star Wars (for certain story elements, not the futuristic aspect), and Coming to America (specifically, Calliphany’s parents). Unlike a lot of the reviewers on Amazon, who delight in destroying a writer’s confidence with their often vicious one star reviews, the reviewers on this site offered constructive criticism married with largely positive comments.

I have had one of my books – The Forgotten Age likened to an Indiana Jones adventure by one reviewer on Amazon under the heading Indiana Jones on Fast Forward!  Why she came up with that notion is beyond me, when I know that the reviewer in question is totally familiar with my work and knows full well that unlike most writers these days I strive for originality.

In the twenty years I have been writing, the very thought of including elements from films, television and computer games, even someone else’s book, as sources for ideas has never consciously entered my mind, while writing any of my books. In fact if I find myself writing a specific passage in any of my books in such a way, I immediately delete it.

Yes, I grant you a lot of my books do have what seem like similar historical elements in them. They are drawn from the writings of the people responsible for recording them several millennia ago.

On occasion I have even been known to write a fiction around a popular belief, like my book The Seventh Age where I used the notion totally believed by many New Agers, particularly in the US, about the Mayan calendar and the assumption that because it ended in 2012, the world as we know it was about to end, even though the Mayans never made such a claim. Needless to say it sold in its tens of thousands among the New Agers during 2012 and 2013. It still sells today along with my other books. Why? Because each one is an original, not the product of plagiarism.

For a while there, thanks to the popularity of Seventh Age, I thought I had finally arrived in this unforgiving world of words, when it easily passed twenty-five thousand copies sold. At that point I stopped counting. But it wasn’t to be. Even so, it was a nice feeling while it lasted.

If you can, be strong. Strive for originality. If you check out my list of books you will see that they number just seven, six of which are currently available. Not a large number by anyone’s standards. But then again, writing a book wholly new in every sense of the word to the market, is never an easy task. Which is possibly why so many writers cop out…

Always write the kinds of stories that you would like to read, not what the majority want. It might take you a while but you will always find a readership providing you stick to your guns.

Having said that, remember that nothing is new, only rediscovered. Wait a minute, I read that somewhere? Oh yes I remember, I wrote it in my recent post Is Science Fiction a Nineteenth or Twentieth Century Phenomena?

See what I mean about originality?

PS – If you are thinking of offering one of your books to The Review Board, forget it. They are booked up solid for the next two years.

PPS – I’m just waiting for some ignoramus to say that my fantasy anthology about five thoroughly likeable goblins –  Goblin Tales, is somehow Tolkienesque and therefore not original…

😉

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17 thoughts on “Why does the book I’m reading seem familiar?

  1. I’m not sure there is anything totally original… depending on how strictly one applies the definition. All creativity is based upon a personal interpretation of an observed and experienced reality… even if that experience is gleaned from books, life or history. What the writer or artist then does with that input is what gives originality to an idea. In terms of fiction at least, I feel there is a true relationship that develops between writer and character and it is this nascent interaction that makes the tales real and original, as no two relationships are ever quite the same. The writer who can transmit this to the reader has something special.

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  2. There’s a big difference between copying and rediscovery– as you have said. Most of the famous writers have use rediscovery, subconsciously or not. Shakespeare, Chaucer… the list goes on have use a form of adaptation. Writers, good writers, are avid readers and of course some of their learning is in their mind when they write an original piece of work.

    I do agree what you’ve said about the ‘soup of the day’ writers but also understand the reasoning. Making money.

    Well done article.

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  3. I dont think any work of art is truly original these days, but that’s Ok. Its our treatment of the idea, our own unique spin on it which makes it new and fresh and exciting. Many writers do just jump on the bandwagon, however, hoping for a fast buck, and some of them get it.

    On a side note, well done on selling 25000 copies of your book! What an achievement! Personally, I’d be happy if I sold 25 lol!

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  4. I enjoyed reading your article Jack. Even in the genre I currently read the most, memoir/autobiography, I find your observations are to some degree relevant. I have tried to opt for a different, and hopefully original, style when writing the latest abridged versions of my autobiography. Nevertheless, in view of your spot on comments I think I better have another look at them.

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  5. Reminds me to THINK – KNOW WHAT you are writing about – check your facts – check your dates/time line, LOVE WHAT you are writing about . . . Proof-read – EDIT – EDIT – EDIT – RE-READ – – – EDIT. NEVER PLAGURIZE!

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