Monday, June 25, 2007

The Same But Different

What I'm Reading: Lean, Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanovich

What I'm Writing: revisions to Dalton & Miri's book.

"The Same, But Different..."

That's what Roxanne St Claire said her publisher wanted for her Bullet Catcher series. We were at a workshop on characterization given by Gayle Wilson, who writes in a variety of genres.

How same is same? How different is different? If I go to a bookstore and browse the Science Fiction shelves, I have totally different expectations of what I'm going to read than if I'm in the Mystery section, or the Romance section. Each has its own 'rules' because readers want some sort of a clue where the ride is going to take them when they sit down with a book.

Authors who write series with continuing characters probably have to deal with the 'same but different' approach even more than series set in a continuing universe, with a wide cast of characters. I'm primarily a mystery reader, and I love finding an author whose characters resonate with me, and following them as far as the author will take them. Half the fun of the read is the character arc, and usually there's some sort of relationship between characters that grows, although there's no real expectation that the relationship will continue. Personally, I prefer things to carry over through several books rather than deal with the 'woman of the month' setup. But a detective novel is a detective novel, and a romance is a romance. In the former, I expect the detective to solve the crime. In a romance, I expect the HEA ending, simply because those are the conventions of the genre. If I get a book off the 'women's fiction' or 'mainstream' shelf, then it's no holds barred, and I get what I get and have very few expectations going in.

I had a review this morning from a reader who thought one of my books was ineffective because she figured out who the bad guy was too soon. She had her expectations of the kind of book she was getting, and expected a suspense-driven thriller. However, when I wrote the book, I had no intention of making it a traditional mystery. It was character driven, and my premise was the police detective hero had a darn good idea who the bad guy was, but couldn't act on it because his personal moral code wouldn't let him cross the boundaries of what the law allowed. The story, for me, was how far I could push my hero before he stepped over his own personal line of what was appropriate for him as a cop. He broke his rule number one by getting emotionally entangled with the victim of the crime he was investigating, but tried to do everything by the book. However, when he stayed within the legal system the victim was almost killed.

And back to "same but different" again. Most of my recent rejections come with comments like, "excellent writing, but too close to something we already have." So, I guess I'm not "different" enough yet. Still, there are days when I wonder if readers are only buying the "same" stuff because the publishers aren't putting any "different and different" stories out there, because the "same but different" stuff is selling. Seems to be one of those Catch 22 situations. We can't buy what's not there, and if we're not buying it, then the publishers aren't going to risk it. That's one of the up sides to the e-publishing world. Their initial investment isn't as great as a print publisher, so they can take a few chances on the new and different.

2 comments:

Ashlyn Chase said...

I love ebooks because they're more apt to be something fresh and really different.

I've put a couple of books down recently because I knew exactly what was going to happen from the set-up. Yet publishers want 'same' because it sold well before, so they figure it will sell well again. And it might until readers get bored to death and begin demanding fresh plots.

Terry said...

Thanks, Ash. I agree there's a lot more latitude in e-books. The bookstores are full of variations on popular authors. I've read a couple that are basically copycats with changes to details, but the basics are all there. Same character type, same job type, same supporting character types. That's not to say the books aren't good enough to publish, but the 'yours needs to be different' argument doesn't work for me when I see that.