A while back I got a text from a friend who was in a tizzy (I say that with love, of course) over a book she was reading.
“All the characters are the same as in ___. Their looks! Their Personalities. I feel like I’m reading the same book.”
Well, the first thing I did was ask her how far into the book she had gotten. When she answered 60 pages I rolled my eyes and informed her that she was projecting. After a few more text, which ultimately resulted in me telling her to chill and give the book a chance, her mild panic attack took a Xanax and she agreed to keep reading.
Now, I would like to tell you that after that mildly amusing conversation I had some great epiphany (which led to this article) but it wasn’t until about a week later (when she contacted me again informing me that the book had, in fact, taken a different path) that I truly understood what had happened to initiate that first text message.
She was reading the book in her head, not the one in her hands.
The concept itself sounds rather ludicrous (I know) but when you take the time to really think about it…it makes perfect sense.
So (since I have nothing better to do with my time that jibber jabber on here all day) let me break it down for you further. Two years ago I attended a book conference comprised (solely) of romance authors. If you were a fan of bursting bodices and swoon worthy rakes (not the gardening tool, but the man) this was the place to be. While there I managed (and by managed I mean I totally snuck into) to attend one of the writing clinics. When it was time for the Q&A (and the first few completely generic question were out of the way) a cute little blonde in a Dr. Who dress (why yes, I do remember what she was wearing…it was awesome) asked:
“How do you make sure your story is original?”
I was expecting a mind-boggling, life affirming answer. Instead, I got 1 sentence and then a multitude of head nods.
“The “story” is never original, only the way you tell it.”
WHAT? *bangs head on wall*
Of course they went on to explain. (I’ll spare you the 2 hours that followed, but I will give you the Cliffs-notes version.) Basically…there are no new stories, only new ways to tell the story. Whether it’s a mystery, a romance, or a fantasy novel the same rules apply. The murderer is trying to get away with something, the girl finds her soul mate, the main character is sent on a quest of some sort. NONE of it is new. So to recognize the elements in all of the books you read (especially if you only read one genre) shouldn’t come as a surprise. Unless you are like me and tend to dye your hair ridiculous colors, then the chances of the characters having similar hair color (ie: brown, blonde, black) are pretty high. Even eye color.
The same can be said for personalities. You’ll have the smart one, the ditzy one, the bad-ass, the socially awkward etc. It’s not that an author is trying to copy a character from another book, it’s just that those are the characteristic that make us human.
Do you see what I’m getting at?
There are no new stories, only different ways to relay a story, and sometimes those stories (usually around the beginning) will come across as similar to something else you have read. What’s important to remember is that they are NOT the same book, and unless you stop comparing them, you will never truly enjoy the book you are currently reading because you are still reading the last one. The one in your head.
So let me say this one more time and see if it makes a little more sense now:
Read the book in your HANDS, not the one in your HEAD.
*steps off soapbox*