More Of The Same (or maybe The Same But Different)

Toby Frost

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Last month I read The Power of the Dog, a crime novel by Don Winslow. I thought it was very engrossing and ploughed through it enthusiastically. I'm now reading the sequel, The Cartel, but finding it harder work - despite (or maybe because of) it being a direct sequel covering very similar characters and events.

I've heard it said that readers want books with a lot of recognisable features, but that aren't exactly the same as previous ones: ie that they introduce some new element or deal with familiar ideas in an unfamiliar way - a "new spin". I wonder how true this is? One of the issues I have with the more niche subgenres like steampunk is that they can feel like the shuffling of a very small pack of cards: no matter how you arrange them, the same things keep coming up. Has anyone else run into this?
 

msstice

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Yes. There are a finite number of plot classes and if the world is the same, the number of novel combinations is not very large. The richness will lie in the characters, but if character development is poor or stereotyped, then this can happen.
 

tinkerdan

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It is said of music that they start with a theme and as they progress they have variations on the theme.
When I first heard that I thought that meant that all music was just a variation of the same theme rather than that the music piece was variations on a theme.

Perhaps when reading an author's work in serialized fiction we should recognize that this is one long piece of music and expect variations on a theme.

That's not to say that there haven't been genre's that seem like one long piece of music with a multitude of composers.

And from there perhaps we could caution that too many cooks spoil the broth--however, that's what publishing editors are for, they're the conductor that keep each player from finding his own way to play the piece. Perhaps in this case the broth needs to be spoiled a bit to give it life and definition.

It's difficult to say where the problem might lie.

I think in general that we see the similar theme with the variation being how the author plays the music in his own piece and when reading a series from that same author it is more likely that his next piece will continue the theme with some variation but still his own style.

This is probably why some themes get pushed hard and then seem to die out as the market is flooded.

I've also heard it said that fiction is not reality--rather reality has a lot of randomness and the mundane in it(things happen for no reason), and fiction is expected to be structured(everything happens for a reason leading up to the important climax and resolution).

Any time structuring such as that gets imposed you have the potential for expectations and from that it is easy to start to see comparisons that might or might not be there. This may all be why this happens, when authors are trying to anticipate what the reader expects to see in fiction.
 

Brian G Turner

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I've heard it said that readers want books with a lot of recognisable features, but that aren't exactly the same as previous ones: ie that they introduce some new element or deal with familiar ideas in an unfamiliar way - a "new spin".

I think this is very true. Readers don't want original - they want the same, only different. IMO that's why genres exist - so that readers can feel reasonably assured that there are enough of the familiar elements they can enjoy, while also, as you say, put a new spin on things as necessary.
 

Venusian Broon

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I've heard it said that readers want books with a lot of recognisable features, but that aren't exactly the same as previous ones: ie that they introduce some new element or deal with familiar ideas in an unfamiliar way - a "new spin". I wonder how true this is? One of the issues I have with the more niche subgenres like steampunk is that they can feel like the shuffling of a very small pack of cards: no matter how you arrange them, the same things keep coming up. Has anyone else run into this?

It seems more plausible to me that publishers want books that are similar to previous (best selling) ones but have a new element. And they are the ones that are the main part of the group of instigators trying to push new authors or books onto the market.

(Interestingly, with regards to the above I'm reading a post-Apocalyptic US-based King-esque (magic) Zombie novel at the moment, which although I haven't read many such much fiction like this, I've recieved a great deal of other very similar material from video games, TV, film etc..., so I'm sort of 'meh' about the whole premise..)

I'm not sure how many readers follow this sort of thinking though. Some people are, I believe, welded to a very precise definition of what they like and like the comfort of the episodic similiarty. (Who will be well stocked with a great many authors who have produced huge series of novels centred on one character, for example.) However personally I like novelty and originality, therefore I tend to jump about genre, author and between fiction and non-fiction to keep my reading fresh no matter what. Hence trying to avoid running too often into a dreary run that my ennui will classify as third-rate.

The genre argument is interesting, I think a good genre can be wonderfully diverse and can exhibit such a range of tastes that readers believing that they are coming into familiar territory may be dissappointed. But I think I am guilty of thinking of genre in the broadest possible definitions, hence speculative fiction, fantasy, horror etc.
 

The Big Peat

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Last month I read The Power of the Dog, a crime novel by Don Winslow. I thought it was very engrossing and ploughed through it enthusiastically. I'm now reading the sequel, The Cartel, but finding it harder work - despite (or maybe because of) it being a direct sequel covering very similar characters and events.

I've heard it said that readers want books with a lot of recognisable features, but that aren't exactly the same as previous ones: ie that they introduce some new element or deal with familiar ideas in an unfamiliar way - a "new spin". I wonder how true this is? One of the issues I have with the more niche subgenres like steampunk is that they can feel like the shuffling of a very small pack of cards: no matter how you arrange them, the same things keep coming up. Has anyone else run into this?

It's not completely true, but it's truer than any of the other pithy sentences that could be said on the subject.

Or, to put it another way, it's mostly true in terms of the most commercially successful art, but that still leaves a lot of art and readers unaccounted for. Although small decks of cards arguably helps explain why some subgenres stay niche. (Or arguably they just never had blockbuster works that gained a ton of fans and created a market for shuffling through the small deck and adding new cards).
 

Wayne Mack

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In one of the Brandon Sanderson discussions I watched, he discussed pairing the mundane with the unique to create interest. This could also be described as 'the fish out of water' scenario - give the reader something he/she expects but put it in a context that is unexpected.
 

Stephen Palmer

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I faced rather a cool response to my second novel Glass, which many reviewers thought a simple copy of Memory Seed. Some reviewers even thought I'd done that deliberately, which, to a naive man with virtually no experience of the publishing world, came as something of a surprise.
Part of the problem alluded to by Toby is that many authors, having chosen their sub-genre, are afraid to go beyond its limits. Especially if you're new, it's difficult to imagine that you can be your own brand. Hence, goggles, airships, etc. Or space battles and lasers. Or staves and kings.
It's often said that publishers are risk averse. My experience is that many authors are the same. That's understandable though, given how difficult it is to become an author and how great the rewards are if, commercially, you succeed. I often find myself content at my lack of commercial success though, since that's the main factor allowing me artistic freedom.
 

Stephen Palmer

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One of the issues I have with the more niche subgenres like steampunk is that they can feel like the shuffling of a very small pack of cards: no matter how you arrange them, the same things keep coming up. Has anyone else run into this?
I found this with Terry Pratchett's novels. Despite them either retaining the early high standard, or just as often improving, I "got bored" after about ten and didn't read any more.
 

Steve Harrison

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Lee Child's Jack Reacher thrillers fall into this category. I have read all 20+ of them and each is, essentially, the same book. The settings change - but Reacher doesn't - the crimes are similar and the villains are the same, but with different names. Each book is like a deja vu experience, yet I keep coming back. It's possibly because I know exactly what I am going to get; a satisfying read. But I do find it a bit odd, as I don't do this with any other authors.

I think I would become bored writing like this, as I enjoy tackling different genres, but then I think of the guaranteed riches...
 

.matthew.

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I find most urban fantasy series falls into this habit too. They string along readers into the double digits with increasingly shakey or unrelated plots, constantly teasing just a little of the main storyline.

I'd rather see something along the lines of Richard Kadrey or Robin Hobb, where there are self-contained trilogies with a primary arc, that get resolved before moving onto an entirely new one for the next 3 books.

It's often this need to pad their series that causes the feeling of genericism (which I wrote and am surprised is an actual word...) between books. It may be they are giving the readers what they want, but to me it feels like a cheap cash grab.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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It is the readers who want the same but different, or rather, they would prefer to spend their money on something familiar they are a bit weary of instead of risking that same sum on something new that could disappoint them. Once others have read something and many have recommended it, they feel they can justify taking the chance.

One thing I like about my Kindle is that I can sample so many books before buying. I don't mean just reading the first few pages like you can standing in a bookshop, but a significant chunk of the story in the comfort of my home. Sometimes when I do this a book becomes boring shortly after I buy it, and I probably miss out on a lot of books that got better as they went along but I didn't find that out because I didn't buy them. But in spite of these mistakes it has helped me to find some books that I really did love but might have been put off because of the price, and saved me a ton of money on books that were highly recommended but just didn't suit me.

(This is not necessarily a recommendation for e-books, though. Back when my eyesight was better, I would often read the electronic sample and then, if I liked it, buy the paper book.)
 

sknox

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>feel like the shuffling of a very small pack of cards
That's a tidy metaphor.

Different genres have different expectations. There are genres of romance where the author had better deliver a Happily Ever After or they'll get blasted. OTOH, Science Fiction spreads a wide, wide tent. My sense is that if a reader is happily encsconced in one of those narrow genres, more of the same is exactly why they're there. If they're looking for variety and surprise (I dare not say novel-ty), then more of the same is likely to irritate them.

I write alternative history fantasy. I have no idea what readers want there!
 

.matthew.

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More of the same is one thing, but for me, only when they mix up the characters and plot. It's when we get neverending series of the same characters doing the same things in the same way that annoys me. Just tell me how the main plot ends so I never have to read anymore!

I write alternative history fantasy. I have no idea what readers want there!
Ronin Hood and his Flatulent Men? An Eastern-inspired Robin Hood meets Men in Tights :)
 

paranoid marvin

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People often ask for originality but what they buy is familiarity. In all forms of media.
 

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