The title is a little grandiose and melodramatic, but it still holds the crux of what I’m talking about. This post relates to two previous posts of mine: this one, in which I review a book that is needlessly mean to fanfiction and its writers, and this one in which I review a book that is basically Divergent. (I’d be very grateful if you read them, but give this a read first, eh?)
This is to expand on a point I made briefly in my review of Banded, as it was one of the books on the dystopia bandwagon. And I realised while I was writing this that what I was saying could be misinterpreted so I thought I’d say some more on the topic.
Okay, yes. Banded is Divergent. And in my opinion, it is a lack of originality capitalising on the popularity of dystopian fiction. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that the book also has a lack of effort. It’s doing what’s been done before because that’s easy, and the book has minimal editing as far as I can tell anyway.
I firmly believe that there’s nothing wrong with capitalising on the popularity of something in your own content. Writer’s get a lot of flack for it for some reason, but it happens all over the place. And I don’t think it’s a problem. It’s just good business, right? If vampire books are selling, why not write a book about vampires? It’s hard enough to make a living without feeling like you have to break the mould. Push the envelope. Other expressions that mean that … that thing.
There’s a difference between being unoriginal creatively, and being unoriginal lazily. I’ll talk about both (briefly, because don’t worry this isn’t an essay) but first: originality in literature is a relatively recent concept.No, really. People talk about fanfiction now, but transformative works, or works using old stories and characters, have always been popular. Why the hell would you want to invest your time in an unknown writer’s unknown characters when Merlin is awesome and someone’s written a story about him? Thor is cool. Tell us another story about Thor. (You might have noticed that that one still applies now.)
People still do it. So many people have told us their version of the superhero story. And not even with original superheroes, but superheroes that have existed for decades. And we don’t complain about that, but for some reason, we complain that “Ohhh this is a ripoff of Battle Royale.”
(Sidenote: The Hunger Games isn’t a Battle Royale rip off just because the stories are similar, though, in my opinion, Battle Royale is a better book.)
We have an idea that we need to write things that have never been written before, but I don’t think that’s true. Put a twist on an old cliche. Take Shakespeare’s works and tell his stories in a new way. Do Sherlock Holmes for the millionth time, but do it differently and there isn’t a problem. Write well. Put your heart into it. That’s what matters.
I don’t believe that you need to try and write something completely new and fresh and original that nobody has seen before. Frankly, you can’t. We’ve been around a while now. We’ve done it all and we’ve said it all. It hasn’t been said by you yet, though, so that isn’t a problem. You can tell a story that’s been told a million times before but as long as you put heart, care, and effort into it, and as long as long as the story is genuinely yours then I’m sure it’ll be great.
Oh, I should say: it is good business to do what’s popular, but it’s also a terrible idea. Look at that, yet another paradox. But it’s true. Don’t try and predict what is and will be popular and make that your focus because if your priority is the marketing then you’re probably going the lazily unoriginal route. There are people in publishing monitoring the market. And you can do the same if you like, but make sure you’re writing a story that you care about.
Man, I’m really contradicting myself right now, aren’t I? Don’t worry, guys. I have authority. I know what I’m on about.
Okay. So. I said I’d give some examples of original unoriginality (I wish I’d written that earlier; I like it) and lazy unoriginality.
Well, actually, I’ve already given some examples. Been seeding them through this post, I have, almost like I planned this or something. (I did not.)
Take Sherlock Holmes (and hey, the original book has been reviewed on this blog) for example. How many versions of that story are there? Plenty. But they’re always updating and refreshing it. They’re doing new things with old content, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But you don’t need to directly do something that’s been done before. That’s not the whole picture.
Take The Hunger Games and Battle Royale. It’s no secret that they tell very similar stories: Children forced by the government to fight each other to the death. But there are many differences in the stories and the messages that they give.
Battle Royale has arguably a solely political focus, criticising politics and politicians with the worst “what if,” situation. The Hunger Games examines popular culture and the media, (inelegantly and inconsistently) criticising beauty standards as it does so. Doesn’t matter if Battle Royale did it first because The Hunger Games did it differently.
But Banded? Well, like I said, the story is lazy, the writing is lazy (and seemingly unedited), the characterisation is flat. But it’s also exactly the same setup as Divergent.Banded did come out a couple years later, but the cynic in me can’t help but feel like it was a fairly lazy attempt to bring traction to the book. (Also I haven’t mentioned it in this post yet, but that book is also The Hunger Games. Yeah, I know.)
If you’re going to do something very similar to another writer because you want that writer’s readers to be yours, at least put some effort into it, hm? Plus I got the book free off BookBub and I’m not buying any more of Byrne’s books after reading that, so the only thing gained from that reading was a couple rants from some loser on the internet.
But this post is already longer than I intended it to be, so the crux of it is this: There’s so much fiction in the world that it’s impossible to do something completely original, so just write things that are you, and put effort and care into them, and it’s all awesome. And don’t hate on people indiscriminately for doing something popular or that’s been done before because it’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, if they haven’t put in the effort, and it seems like a shallow cash in, then please feel free to have a little bitch about that.
Thanks for reading! You can read my review of Banded here, and my review of the other book I mentioned in the opening here. You can find the rest of my content by checking out the social links in the sidebar. (I do YouTube and Twitch stuff, guys!)