Similarities Between Stories

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Prof. Tarma Amelia Black
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Similarities Between Stories

Postby Prof. Tarma Amelia Black » Tue Jan 17, 2017 5:18 am

Lately, I've been reading a series of books, The Mortal Instruments (by Cassandra Clare), and I've discovered that there is a huge uproar saying that she copied the story lines of another author. I tried reading the book(s) of the other author, to see if there really was a similarity between the two, but couldn't get into the other person's books, so have no idea (from my own looking into it) if this uproar has any validity or not.

Thing is -- there is so much in the world of fiction, science fiction, fantasy, adventure stories where it is so much the same.

Some folks have written that all epic fantasy stories started with J. R. R. Tolkien and his Lord of the Rings books. But ... didn't he use a lot of the myths and legends of earlier centuries in his writings? Yes, he created a LOT of his world of Middle Earth, but even that is said to be equivalent to the term Midgard of Norse mythology.

This topic isn't intended to start a lot of disparagement of different authors and their works. What it is intended to start is a discussion of similarities of general story outline -- who has done this? When?

Start with Shakespeare! What books and stories have been written which point directly to, or appear to be based on something he has written?

I look at Romeo and Juliet ... and see West Side Story. Yes, they are the same ... and yet, oh so different.
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Sky Alton
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Re: Similarities Between Stories

Postby Sky Alton » Tue Jan 17, 2017 6:53 pm

Excellent post, Tarma

I think about this a lot and it's one reason I had to take a break from fantasy-I was getting too critical because my brain had reached saturation point with all the similarities between books.
I think I abandoned 'The Sword of Shannara' because I'd read Tolkien so much that the quest narrative involving many races to journey to the place of darkness was just too wrapped up in LOTR for me to accept it in any other way. (Which is silly because it's one of the most common fantasy plots there is)

Now I'm slowly getting back into my favourite genre with a new apreciation for what works and why many people use what is ostensibly the same thing. I'm re-reading Eragon which is quite Tolkien-esque but also similar to Star Wars (the journey of a farmboy with a massive destiny and his mentor) and have a far more ambivalent reaction to books like sword which I was too quick to brand as unoriginal. And that's because I use recognisable forms in my own writing: I'm not an original, boundry pushing writer (if any of those truly, truly exist-we all have influences!). I'm one who writes stories people enjoy and borrows from the rich wealth of cultures we have at our fingertips.

We've all seen the year long controversies about the elements of Harry Potter that people think are too similar to other peoples work. Whether or not they are is a matter of opinion. But my tutors always tell our writing seminars to borrow shamelessly and through borrowing, we'll realise how to make what we borrow our own.

I'm not quite in agreement with whoever said 'If you steal from one author, it's plagiarism. If you steal from two, it's research.' or Picasso and his 'good artests coppy, great artests steal' approach but I think drawing inspiration is totally justified, providing it leads the way into your own story. (That being said, I had someone truly steal my work last year and it was one of the worst feelings in the world).

Shakespeare is an interesting example. I think that's mainly because people feel justified in announcing that they're writing something inspired by Shakespeare whereas announcing that you're writing in the mode of an author nearer to your own time is somehow less permissible.
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Maxim Trevelyan
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Re: Similarities Between Stories

Postby Maxim Trevelyan » Sun Jan 29, 2017 8:54 pm

After talking extensively about characters from Discworld in one of the classes, and some prompting from my friends, I've decided to take a look at Terry Pratchett's novels. At first I was alarmed by the sheer amount of books and picked the first book available going from #1 from the library. It was Wyrd Sisters, #6 in the Discworld series. At first I was afraid that it won't be easy immersing myself into the world well after it was established, but I didn't struggle as much as I thought I would.

Immediately I noticed the similarities with Shakespeare. The book introduces us to Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick - the three witches. King of Lancre is murdered by his cousin. The crown and the king's baby are given to the three witches, who then hand them over to a group of traveling actors. While waiting for the child to grow up, people get angry, so the witches move everything forward in time.

Just the theme of three witches is glaringly an homage to Shakespeare's Macbeth, even repeating the play's first line in the book, spoken by one of the witches:

When shall we three meet again?


The three witches in Macbeth are also known by the names of The Weird Sisters, so the parallel is also in the book title 'Wyrd Sisters'. There are also several pieces of dialogue in the book that are almost word for word from Macbeth (Magrat: Can you tell by the prickling of your thumbs? vs. Witch 2: By prickling of my thumbs. Something wicked this way comes.) or allude to other Shakespeare works, such as Julius Caesar.

I do not mind if people take inspiration from older works or even contemporary ones. As long as it is obvious it is your story. So, the way Pratchett took inspiration or paid homage to Shakespeare, I don't mind, I even think it enriches the story, but there are some people that just take the story and run with it (Juliet Immortal, Ophelia to name a few) and it is unbelievable. Yes, Shakespeare is in public domain, but seriously, use a little imagination.
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