Wednesday, June 4

Book Déjà vu

Have you ever started reading a book, only to realised you've experienced the plot before?

It is a highly popularised theory that there are no more "original" ideas. Every journey and archetypal role has been written, and we are all just exploring the same core story in different ways. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. History is repeated, and humanity is continuously seeking to understand itself.

Yet, when does a book's similarity to another story become a turn-off to a reader?

I read a book last year, which reminded me of a film I had seen. I immensely enjoyed it and the writing style usurped my initial comparisons, yet I learnt later that other readers had noticed the similarities to the point where they cried plagiarism.

Another book I came across recently is extraordinarily similar in concept to one I know of, but have not yet read, so I cannot make the content comparison myself. To top it off, I just started reading a book, which is thus far well written, but reminds me too much of a television show for comfort.

Where do you draw the line between calling an author out on plagiarism – a serious accusation – and acknowledging that it is in fact possible for more multiple people to have similar ideas? How many factors does it take to draw suspicion or turn you off a book? It's something I'm struggling with as a reader. What is more important: The ideas or how they are executed in writing?

There are many plots I come across where I feel like I'm experiencing book déjà vu, due to archetypes and formulaic story structures. Only, there is a difference between a generic delivery, and a book with strikingly familiar details.

Do you experience book déjà vu? Does it bother you if the books you read are similar to other stories you have already read or seen?


Sydnee said...

Well, I know from what I've learned re: copyright law that ideas can't be plagiarized in the legal sense, so even if those writers did take inspiration directly from another source, it's probably not illegal. I'm torn on whether that's ethical, though. I mean, all of us take inspiration from outside sources - that's basically what it means to be an artist.

I think it comes down to execution and intent if you take ideas directly from someone else, but I err on the side of assuming that it's a coincidence unless there are way too many specific details popping up again and again. There have been a couple books where I already knew what was going to happen because it followed the plot of other popular books to the letter. Is that because the author plagiarized or because the trope is so common I can't avoid it? I dunno. But I've read tons of formulaic romance and still love them because they stand out in some way. I think authors subverting expectations/tropes/cliches makes all the difference.

Keri Payton said...

Hmm, you make a good point. I mean, it's hard to know for sure if anyone has plagiarised someone else, unless they've basically duplicated the story/text. It's just that multiple similarities make me uncomfortable about what I'm reading. Also, it's not the best for your reader to constantly be thinking about/comparing your work to another the entire time. Yet, if it really is a coincidence, there isn't much you can do about it in advance. Conundrum, conundrum!

Emma Michaels said...

I tend to get a bit weary but not to the point of crying plagiarism unless there are actual paragraphs that give me deja vu and when I check, are in fact from another novel. If it is because of an abundance of romantic clichés I let it slide but don't continue reading, if it is plagiarism... I add the author to my personal black list and research to see if anyone has caught it. I've seen it happen too many time and sadly, many times from brilliant writers who should have given themselves more credit and skipped the shortcuts.

That being said, I am a binge reader. I tend to not read for a month or so and then read 9 books in one week so if I try to keep my reading selection very versatile or things run together. If I am mid binge and get deja vu I sometimes set it aside for the next round.

Keri Payton said...

I think it's also the fact that the book in question was a dystopian, and YA dystopians are sort of becoming a little repetitive...