What constitutes a miss step in the writing world? How similar can one book by an author be to another book by a different author before someone yells foul? What about plot line and character descriptions? Can you compare your own writing to a published author of your genre and find similarities between your book and theirs? How much? I’m not talking about how one book in the author’s repertoire compares to another of the same author. They say we have a limited number of characters at our disposal and after that, they are just variances, but how much do your characters resemble characters from another author? Does it matter if the public is willing to buy both books? What about your own conscious?
As I stated in my last blog, I am an avid reader of series. I like a book that goes on to follow the main character, or even take a minor character from one book and focus on them for the next. So it is inevitable that authors who write series, have characters or even plot lines that start to sound similar. I’ve read all twenty-seven plus novels in a series from one author and by the twenty-first, I could literally tell you exactly how the author would describe each character and on what page. Some authors get stuck in a groove or simply use a formula that works. If it sells?
Today however, I picked up a book that was so similar to different book by a different author that I had to pause. Now when I say similar, I mean, this book was one-step away from plagiarism in my opinion. (Maybe overstated, but jeez.) One of my favorite authors has a long running series, of which I have read all of the books, follow avidly. I even get the newsletter. That said I’m pretty familiar with the characters, plot and so forth. This new book…the entire time I’m listening to it (okay, it’s a book-on-tape and I’m not actually reading it) all I can think of is how similar it is to the other author’s series. Curious person that I am, I did some research and found that this new author has over twenty-five books published and this new series, was started only a few years ago. My favorite author has been writing the series I’m speaking of, for a considerably longer number of years.
Let me just compare some points. The MC is females. They do not have a current love interest because their recent love interest was a cheating jerk. Both MC’s have brown curly hair that hits just above their shoulders. The MC lives in an apartment alone only blocks from her very ethnic parents. Both mothers are busy bodies who call their daughter’s constantly. In one there is a meddlesome grandmother who frequently steels the scene, in the other, it’s a meddling grandfather. There is a lot of eating of ethnic foods. Both are having bad luck with jobs and now work for a relative. In one a slime ball cousin, in the other a slime ball uncle. The jobs are related to police work and both of these MCs have people from HS who are cops who always seem to come upon them in compromising situations. IE; a dead body is found and the MC is there when the police arrive, their HS friends. Both books have a distinctive receptionist who runs the “office.” As for vehicles, both MC’s drive or have access to Buicks, and not just Buicks, but large older Buicks that guzzle gas. Both series of books are done in a humorous light, again, another similarity. Both are looking for things, items, people, trying to solve a mystery, missing person, dog, item… you get the idea.
I’m about half way through the book now and am still bothered by the similarities; however, I really enjoyed the other series and as this new one is so similar, it’s (okay I’ll say it) hard to put down. Is this the answer to my question?
By no means is this the only instance that I have found such similarities. I read fantasy books and have found a number of series that are very similar to one another, yes, for the most part, I’ve read both series. I can admit that my fantasy series resembles, in a small way, another series that is very popular. I’d like to think mine is different enough that no one reading it sits there the whole time scratching their head wondering if I’ve simply copied another author. I like to think that my thriller romance has similarities to another one of my favorite authors, is that arrogant on my part. I’m pretty sure no one would pick up both books and say she had just read this book before writing her own, but I’d like to think they have the same feel. How close can we make our stories to those already published and still gain a new audience? And at what point are we just out of line?
It’s been said that there are only so many stories out there and our job as authors is to find a new way to tell the same story. Often when I read about query letters, I’m told to compare my work with another author in my genre. So does this mean we are expected to write in a similar vein as those authors? Do we have a responsibility to our readers to be our own storyteller and is it reasonable to think we can? Where is that invisible line that should never be crossed? Your thoughts.
An added thought now that I’ve completed the entire novel. Not only does the novel mimic another author’s novel, but it pays homage to it by mentioning both the series and the author. And to top it off…both characters now have dogs they didn’t want. My final thought, I put in a request for the next book in the new series.