Saturday, January 19, 2013

De Ja You

Plots are a dime a dozen in fiction.  One author, Christopher Booker, would have us think that there are only truly seven plots in fiction:  Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth.  Whether you agree with his assessment, regardless of the finiteness of plots, there are thousand upon thousands of STORIES.  An unlimited, unfathomable, inexhaustible supply of tales. 

And yet, sometimes, we can find similarities.  It would be easy for one to attribute this to influence.  I read Stephen King and then write a story about a girl lost in the woods, or attacked by a dog.  How many stories have been written about authors who have a "dark side" and it comes out to kill?  I could, if I sat and thought about it, come up with hundreds of other examples from authors ranging from Virgil, to Homer, to Shakespeare, to Hemingway, to John Irving, to James Joyce and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

But, what if I said I opened a book to peruse it and found a story strikingly like my own?  One which I had never before picked up?  What if I said my own story is barely published and originally written in 2008 while the book in question was published in 2010?

Some would want more proof.  Alright.  I have published the story in question, the first chapter of a fantasy "Work in Progress," on my website.  You can find it here.  It is the January excerpt.  While you are there on my website, take 2 seconds to enter the contest by answering one simple question.  There is a small prize in a drawing to be held at the end of the month.

Now, the published work, by an author which I like, SM Stirling is here.  You can read the sample (the first chapter) and compare for yourself.

You can see that I don't have a naked person running through the woods, but I do write something similar:  a panther that is able to communicate via telepathy.  Ok, his is a tiger with black on black striping and eyes of molten sulfur (great imagery, I am sure you agree), while mine is a true panther, but there are similarities.

Now, this got me to thinking about every time I have read a fantasy that tread over the same dwarf, elf, and dragon cliche, or every police procedural that walked that familiar path of evidence, motive, accessibility, and concurrence.  It also reminded me of the similarities of romances:  boy meets girl, boy is a bad boy and girl finds out too late, etc. 

I understand that as authors, we tap into the "Muse," and use our imaginations to concoct new, exciting, never-before-written accounts.  We explore and create new worlds, our own sciences, our gods, religions, societies.  We use our existing world and twist history or create new futures.  Yet, every post-apocalyptic story seems similar in ways, don't they?  Fantasy worlds, no matter how divergent, are familiar and share elements.  Every genre has its iconic elements.  Zombies lurch, vampires bite, dragons fly, women are swept up by the leading guy, and police solve crimes. 

I am not trying to be negative here.  I am saying that we share something.  We share the wonderful world we live in and the thousand upon thousands of stories that have been and will be created.  I think there is a wonder in it.  Whether we are succumbing to influence or calling upon a common human theme of love, abandonment, grief, hope, triumph, quest, voyage, or death, we share a common story.  We share a connection.  There is no shame in what we have in common.  There is no shame in our differences either because even in our individuality, we have something in common.

What about you?  Have you ever come across a story like your own, even a simple element?  Or have you read two books and found so many similarities that it made you wonder?