1. drifter265
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    drifter265 Banned

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    If stories are all the same, why are people reading them?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by drifter265, Mar 11, 2015.

    So I'm making progress in my own book (plotting it) and I'm realizing it fits the pattern with many other books (stories) and while I find it's unique, I can't see why anyone else would want to read it and actually enjoy it and not just say, "This is just like every other story I've read," and slam the book down in disappointment and realize they just wasted 8 hours of their life.

    I mean, all stories follow the same pattern: something happens, they deal with it and fail and succeed, and then a climax happens and a resolution is reached; everyone is just reading and watching these stories for the same effect: the climax and sense of purpose and meaning in life.

    Isn't that all what we're really doing when trying to write a story - just trying to recreate that same effect for a reader who has seen it all before? What are we doing that's going to be different for them this time or do they care? Why would anyone care about my story if it's just like every other. It can't be this easy can it?
     
  2. ChaosReigns
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    ChaosReigns Be Still and Know Contributor

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    firstly, Hello Drifter, i believe you and i havent crossed paths yet! (despite the fact we both have been here a longish time)

    yes, i agree that all novels follow the same premise, but it is the uniqueness of each different novel/story that makes people want to read them. each different genre has its own variation upon this theme, but ultimately, its how its dressed up and presented that is what grabs people.

    take 50 Shades of Grey for instance, that originated as a Twilight fan fiction, hard to believe now, but that is where it originated from.

    romance stories? probably some kind of variation on Romeo and Juliet? (correct me if im wrong here, i dont really venture into romance so much)
     
  3. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    The overall plot structure is usually the same, but within that plot structure, you make things interesting with plot details, setting, characterization, writing style - all the elements of good fiction.
     
  4. Talisien
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    Talisien Member

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    I understand what you are saying completely. My favourite genre is fantasy or science fiction. When searching for my next book to read I often despair as I read the synopsis of book after book and they are all the same. So what do I look for?

    Firstly I read the first page and if the writing style engages me then it doesn't matter if the storyline is the same as any other I will enjoy it through my appreciation of the writer's skill.

    Then I look for a a really well thought out culture, ( "that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society." ) with a different twist to it, the more depth the better.

    But in the end what I truly look for and enjoy are main characters with great depth. It is not so much about what happens to them, as to how they think, feel and cope with those events.

    Ten authors could take the exact same plot and storyline, but in fleshing out the bones they would produce ten extremely different experiences for the reader.
     
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  5. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    As for why would anyone care - I guess if you care about it, then chances are someone out there would also care about it. I write my stories first and foremost because I enjoy them, and I just enjoy playing with words in general, and heck, yeah, I enjoy admiring my own skill when I come up with something particularly nice.

    I think even if I never got published, I'd still be writing, although publishing is of course the end goal.

    I'm not sure it matters why people would care about your story. Why do people seek relationships? Why watch movies? People are looking for a connection - a spiritual, mental, emotional connection with something, some insight, some thrill, a ride of a lifetime, maybe they're looking for a laugh. Maybe they're just tired from work and want to forget about the stresses of life for a moment and curl up with a book.

    We read for many reasons. Why should people care about your story is like asking why do people read? Why do we enjoy reading? Why do we have a need to share - and to listen to - different experiences? Why do we need adventure? I think the answers to these questions probably determine whether one reads at all in the first place, and also what one reads. Why do some only read non-fiction and think that fiction is pointless? Why do others devour fiction only?

    But ultimately I'd come back to this: we're all just looking for a connection with other humankind, I think, whether it's to find a thought that resonates with our own or for someone to fall in love with, or for someone to make us laugh and cry. It's why characters are so important to a story.
     
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  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, readers come in all shapes and sizes, as you can certainly guess after reading postings on this forum. And different things appeal to different people.

    I was astonished when I read the 'requirements' for a person submitting a story to Mills & Boon, for example. The M&B formula is rigid. This implies that the people who read these stories want the same thing, every time. The same kind of heroes and heroines, a very truncated list of locations and scenarios, and virtually the same plot. In other words, the readers are enjoying an experience when they read these stories, and simply want to repeat it. They don't want anything to jar their enjoyment.

    I spoke to a woman one time who picks up and devours every M&B she can get her hands on. She has a huge heap of them in her attic, and says that when she can't find a new one, she goes and reads one of her old ones ...and that it seems new because she's forgotten the characters' names and the particulars of the story.

    People who like to read straight mystery stories (in the Agatha Christie mold) also like a certain amount of formula. There is a murder, there are suspects, there are more murders, and the person trying to solve the crime puts the facts together, there is a moment of enlightenment when it all falls into place, and presto, the solution. It's like a puzzle and these readers like to solve it along with the 'detective.' Mess with that formula and the readers won't be happy at all.

    Then there's the other end of the scale. Books that are experimental, that aren't much like anything else out there. Many of these win literary prizes.

    In general, you can run the gamut of 'very predictible' to 'totally unpredictible.' Other than the fact that a story must hold a reader's attention all the way to the end, there isn't really a 'rule' every writer has to follow.

    If you want to write to a formula, or write within a specific genre, you will find readers if you do it well. If you want to write stuff that's totally off the wall, then that will attract other people.

    Basically ...as long as you're not plagiarizing another writer and cruising for a lawsuit, write whatever you like. As long as you do it well, you should be fine. Just keep in mind that it takes a while to learn the craft and to produce a readable, interesting novel, and then sell it to an publisher ...and the public attention span can be short. So writing an echo of what's popular at any given moment can backfire, if popular attitudes move on while you're doing it.
     
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2015
  7. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    Seems like a lot of room for individuality there to me. The way you put it, it's kind of like that 'life' thing: born, grow up, go to school, get a job, marry, have kids, die. What's the point?

    Readers of some genres demand the same book over and over. Read any two of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books (twenty-six and counting) and try to describe any difference between them.
     
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  8. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    A story is a vehicle. It is the method and mode by which an idea is transmitted and propagated. Cars, in a more plain sense are also vehicles, and so far, they all answer to a very similar description. But within that description there is tremendous room for variation and room to satisfy uncounted needs.

    From this:

    [​IMG]
    to this:
    [​IMG]
    to this:
    [​IMG]
    to this:
    [​IMG]
    to this monstrosity:
    [​IMG]
    to this:
    [​IMG]

    And I could go on forever and ever. Was it pointless to make these different variations on a theme? From one POV, they are all the same. Four wheels, drivetrain, suspension, frame, sheet-metal, motor, windows, lights, seats, steering wheel. They all share a basic scaffolding that changes in dimension but not in basic layout. I don't want to live in a world with no '57 Chevy or '65 Ford Mustang. The fact a'57 Chevy or '65 Mustang are just variations on many models that came before them is of no importance. They mean something. They were worth creating, and are still very much worth loving if you are lucky enough to get your hands on one. They don't drive like today's cars, that's for sure. They've both got a lot more float than modern drivers are accustomed to, even the little pony, but that's ok. It's part of the charm. :) Stories are the same.
     
  9. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    That's what I don't want to end up doing, writing the same book that exists in twenty-thousand different books. I admit that there's nothing new anymore, everything's basically a slight rehash of everything else. I still want to try and be as unique as I can be, which is why I cringe when I find myself making a fantasy or a sci-fi that sounds like just like every other fantasy/sci-fi out there, find myself wanting to do so.

    But I suppose different people look for different things. Some want uniqueness, others want more of the same and there isn't anything inherently wrong with it. So long as people are reading and enjoy what they read, that's what counts, right?

    @jannert - I didn't know there was a formula for writing mysteries. I just assumed it was 'someone gets killed, detective deduces, criminal gets caught'.
     
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  10. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Or they don't get published for decades and the writer doesn't get recognized for their genius until they're about to pop off or have already done so. ;) It's a risk one takes. :p
     
  11. aguywhotypes
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    aguywhotypes Active Member

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    The car analogy was wonderful!

    Seth Godin says this (paraphrased)
    Of course it's been done before
    but it HASN'T been done by YOU!
     
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  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, that's kind of a shortened version of a formula, isn't it? :) Now what probably wouldn't float with folks who routinely read these books, is if nobody ever solved the mystery, or if the criminal didn't get caught. Instead, maybe the criminal killed the detective and escaped?

    By the way, I'm not talking 'thrillers' here, most of which involve some sort of mystery. I mean the kind like Agatha Christie wrote. Essentially they are puzzles. You are given all the pieces and it's a challenge to you to put them all together and complete the picture before the detective steps onto the scene and tells you the answer to the puzzle. Well-written mysteries usually fool the reader; ones that are not as popular end up being easily guessed.

    I read ALL of Agatha Christie's mysteries when I was a youngster. I didn't read them because I gave a hoot about who killed whom, nor did I try to 'guess' whodunnit. I'm not a lover of the mystery genre, unlike my mother-in-law who used to devour mysteries. I read them simply for the local colour ...England just after WW2, for the most part. Some in the 1920s and 30s as well. And a few in exotic locations, such as Egypt, etc. I read them for that, and loved them.

    I remember all the hee-haw that came with Donna Tartt's The Little Friend, because the 'mystery' that started the book never got solved. Lots of people couldn't live with that, although it was a realistic enough outcome. Lots of real-life mysteries never get solved. So what's wrong with a book that ends with an unsolved mystery remaining that way? Nothing ...except lots of readers expect closure on this issue, and get really mad if there isn't any.

    That's what formula does. Readers expect certain things to happen. The fun is watching them happen, and wondering how they are going to happen in each book. But in a formula book, they do happen. Can you imagine a Mills & Boon where the hero and heroine decide, at the end, to go their separate ways? Nope. Neither can Mills & Boon, publishers.
     
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  13. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    True. What's a mystery without a murderer to catch, or a fantasy without a world to save? People like that sort of stuff. If it's fun and entertaining, who gives a Shamu's tail if it's like every other story out there?
     
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  14. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    It is the nuances that matters.

    You could always start a revolution and convince people that stories do not always have to follow a certain structure or format to be good. Expectations kill.

    Unfortunately, stories are a spin off of real life, and in real life, people are always facing issues and finding ways to solve them all the time. From deciding on what you are having for lunch to relationship issues, there is always a problem, climax, and resolution to be had. The only difference is scale. Stories tend to make the scale of the issue look bigger so it would be more interesting, such as saving the world.

    The funny thing is that if you think about this in terms of life, why would anyone want to live if it is always the same?
     
  15. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    This may be relevant. Funny enough, it came out on the same day this thread was created. :p

    http://channelawesome.com/nostalgia-critic-why-is-nothing-original-anymore/

    Doug Walker, as the Nostalgia Critic, talks about why nothing (in movies, anyway) is original anymore. Thought it fit because we're talking about originality in books.
     
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  16. Swiveltaffy
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    Swiveltaffy Contributing Member Contributor

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    Also, you're talking about genre, right? Because literature very often doesn't conform to these basic parameters. Though, a type of framework certainly exists, but there's more playing with the playdoh. Historically, there are also large differences in how the narrative is presented. Again, there is certainly a kind of essential quality that could be distilled but still, more of that manipulation and questioning.
     
  17. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Everything is a type of formula, a pattern. Take pasta aside from the sauce isn't a noodle a noodle and yet some people ( not mentioning any names ) get a little offended if you try and make 'spaghetti' with penne pasta. Texture, details, you're own secret ingredients that's what makes the story/meal/outfit/art/life/conversation special.
     
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  18. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Echoing what @jannert said about formula - sometimes readers like to know what to expect. Think of readers following the same character throughout a series. The fact that it's the "same thing" gives them comfort - they can trust this book to deliver exactly what they're looking for.

    As much as I try to make my actual writing unique, I write the stories I do simply because I like them, not really for their originality. Of course where it's obviously cliche or overdone, I'd rethink, but where the cliche fits and works, I'll happily use it. I have a feeling my characters are, in general, quite similar - esp when it comes to my protagonists. I was actually rather worried about this, because no two real human beings should be so similar that you feel a little like you're writing echoes of the same people, just with a different tragedy and put into a different set of circumstances. And then my friend whom I collaborated with told me: you know, sometimes that's what people want.

    And in my experience, people usually really enjoy my protags. In my friend's case, she gets a very mixed reception for her protags - but then she doesn't write to formula as much. Her characters tend to be a lot more flawed and come from perspectives people don't always relate to. Having read a few of her books, of course I see some recurring devices and themes, since they're made by the same author, but in general she writes different characters every time. For those who love something fresh, they'd probably love her stuff way more than mine.

    So... in the end, it's just a case of appealling to different readers, really.
     
  19. Bryan Romer
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    While the basic story concepts may be similar, society changes. So does technology, fashion, cultural norms, social expectations, and so on. Therefore, each writer brings a unique perspective to his or her story. When combined with the author's personality and background, it allows for a near infinite variety of subtle differences in each novel.

    The original concept of SF was that way too. Imagine a variation in technological or social norms, and extrapolate how it would affect the world as a whole (or the lives of a selected group of people). That was what brought the wonder to the genre. I would argue that the modern focus on character based SF stories reduces this amazement factor, making nothing but the petty desires and emotions of a few people, rather than thousands, millions, even galaxies of beings.
     
  20. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    You are describing what happens, the vehicle, but you are missing the story, the passenger the vehicle is transporting to the reader.

    Take the 18 minutes to listen to Lisa Cron, author of Wired for Story in this TEDx Talk. It's a bit esoteric but she explains one very important key to why people read stories, "the power of story".

     
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  21. Siena
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    Siena Active Member

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    I don't think the general public realize they're all the same. They just see different characters, situations, themes, worlds etc.
     
  22. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    That's not always the case. I've seen many stories that were clearly tropey. It's all too common for people to use tired story telling.

    Doesn't mean people can't make the effort to learn to write better and un-trope their work.
     
  23. Siena
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    Siena Active Member

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    Sure. But even when they're not tropey or seem different, an educated eye can see the similarity to other stories.

    Take BIRDMAN, which just won best film and best original screenplay - you can see the similarity to other films in the theme, the structure and so on. But the general public don't see that.
     
  24. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    You are using an example of good story telling. Take the TV series, Vampire Diaries or NCIS or any other formula series. They might be interesting at first, but after a while the stories become so repetitive they grow boring.

    I'm not saying good story telling can't happen around an old theme. I'm just saying bad story telling can as well.
     
  25. Siena
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    Siena Active Member

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    (not sure what we're debating/arguing, if we're doing that at all, but:)

    Sure, but EMPIRE is a formulaic as they come and it's doing huge numbers; JOHN WICK is as formulaic as they come and it's getting funded for sequels - they work and the audience doesn't see them in the way writers may.

    On the other hand, SEVENTH SON is as formulaic as they come and it bombed.

    I guess there's an X-Factor in the execution and marketing that make some work and others don't.

    But I'd still say we're talking about it from a writer perspective; the audience in general doesn't see it that way, though they might recognize tropiness in some way, they just see characters, themes, worlds and so on and just want it presented to them in an entertaining way.
     

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