Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Copycats Of Fiction Have No Shame And Make Millions

When Terry Brooks published The Sword of Shannara, I was one of the first kids to dive straight into it.  And even at that early age (I was in junior high school at the time) I remember being shocked at how much it followed Tolkien's Lord of the Rings point-by-point. In LOTR you had the nine Brooks you had the nine skullbearers, in LOTR you had Sauron, in Brooks you had the Warlock Lord, and it goes on and on.  The King of the Silver River is Elrond, the Hall of Kings is Moria complete with monster at the gate, and the druids are simply the Istari wizards.  The Druids Keep is Isengard and Allanon is Gandalf, etc.  You even have two hobbits...only they aren't called hobbits but they are from Shady Vale...a place a lot like Hobbiton. And their names are Flint and Shea instead of Frodo and Sam.  Anyway...this is a well documented thing...the fact that a New York Times bestselling author blatantly stole from the grandfather of all epic fantasy and in the one gave a shit.  And to Brooks' credit, it didn't stop me from reading his books. I was hungry for fantasy at the time so I bought all the Shannara books as they came out and they steadily got better and better (and more original).  I thought Elfstones of Shannara was awesome so yeah...he forged himself a great writing career. However, just out of the gate (so to speak) I thought things were so shameless with his first book that I would have been downright embarrassed had anyone called me on it.

Anyway, this is happening again in a book I'm reading.  What book you ask?  It's Amanda Hocking's Trylle trilogy and the first book is called Switched. Don't get me wrong...Amanda is a wonderful writer.  I enjoy her prose but the woman doesn't have a story. No, she has Stephanie Meyer's story.  Things started smacking me over the head about Chapter Six.  Let me see if you can pick what book she is following point-by-point as I lay them out for you.
These two books are essentially the same story. Only names have
been changed.  
We are introduced to the female protagonist named Wendy.  She considers herself unattractive, her hair is awful, and she has no friends.  She's the new girl in a high school in a small town and awkward as hell.  One day, a gorgeous boy starts staring at her and continues to do so until it makes her so uncomfortable she can't stand it.  When she asks him about it...he is evasive...won't give her a straight answer.  Only later on does she discover that he's a Trylle...the word for troll...and that he has essentially super powers.  And he's very long-lived.  Oh and he visits her in her bedroom at night...does this scene sound familiar?

One night outside her home, her life is threatened.  Not with a careening car but setup almost the same.  Two people attack her and "Finn" the hot dude saves her all by himself (pushing the bad people away). Then he takes her to his home which is absolutely gorgeous to meet his family of other trolls who are Gucci and Prada wearing, sushi-eating, upper class snobs.  I mean super rich. Like millionaire rich (high society). And it's secluded in the woods (think evergreen forests) with a view of the Mississippi River... Instead of a black Volvo we have a black Porsche.  She also finds out that there's something inherent in her that makes Finn stare at her. He can smell her.  It's her hair (not blood) and it's irresistible to other Trylle.

That's all the farther I've gotten...but does that sound familiar to you?  Does that point-by-point sound like a certain highly successful New York Times bestseller?

I know that some of you writers out there always say, "There are no original ideas." But COME ON! for Pete's sake!?

I mean, is there any shame to this?  Here...let me give you an example of what I mean...

Hey author friends! Here's my AMAZING plot for my story...OMG...IT'S SO GOOD AND I WILL MAKE MILLIONS. I even have cover art for it already made...check it out:

Dude from a future where mankind is pushed to extinction by machines escapes through a portal into the past.  He's on a mission to save a woman targeted by the machines of the future.  He has to stop a killer robot only, along the way, he falls in love with the woman and they have sex and she gets pregnant.  Here's the hitch...her baby will someday be this guy's father.

Holy shit!  Isn't that great?!  I iz so smart this is sure to be a bestseller and you all will be jealous while I'm making millions.

Anyway...what do you guys think? Amanda's books are huge bestsellers (maybe not as big as Twilight) but they've made her rich.  Terry Brooks is a rich fat cat too and he blatantly copied Tolkien.  I'm wondering why someone isn't blatantly copying J.K. Rowling.  I mean you could do it and self-pub and probably catch a portion of the same audience that J.K. has.  Even at 1% that's 4 million people that are going to buy your books.  How would you like to sell 4 million books?

Oh's my story...there's this paranormal school that teaches wizards ghosts, vamps, werewolf kids how to properly use their powers.  Each one has a wand fetish like a silver bullet or locket that they channel their magic through.  There are professors in the school.  One paranormal boy named Charles Hatter is the only kid that survived when dark wizards ghosts, vamps, and werewolves led by Voldemort a real powerful dude attacked the family and left a mark on his forehead eyes (his eyes have flickering lightning bolts in the irises).

And to any of you that would say "You can get sued for this kind of copycat behavior"...I don't think that you can. Maybe Mr. Pagel can weigh in on this because he's a lawyer. But I'm pretty sure that ideas cannot be copyrighted...meaning a general a plot.

Anyway...authors that do this have no shame.  I'm actually kind of disgusted.  But they are richer than me and have huge publishing contracts so does what I think really matter? Nope.

How the hell did publishing get to be so terrible? Is it money? Are people so hard up to make a buck that they clone what other writers come up with and pass it off as their own story?  Does it ever occur to people that if they are just blatantly going to steal a novel point-for-point, chapter-by-chapter and just change names and setting that...I dunno...maybe the world doesn't need another book like this?  I guess I'm old school.  Writing isn't just about writing for me. It's storytelling. And please don't tell me a story I've already heard. I don't want to read George R.R. Martin's story as told by John Doe with all the names changed and have to put up with all the praise you get lauded because the idiots out there who read books aren't well read enough to know that a story is a ripoff.


  1. Jeez, Michael, I dunno... Your "killer robot from the future" thing sounds a little far fetched. Honestly, no-one would pay good money for that story. Back to the drawing board for you, young man!

    Actually, your post is a little scary. Sure, there are no original stories, but that doesn't mean you can just chance the names in the old ones and write it down.

  2. I think this blog post just sold 5 copies of Switched.

  3. I strongly disagree with people always wanting to harp on this. So, there are millions of readers who only care to read original material; is that a reason to disparage those of us who actually prefer to dwell within realms that we know and love? I see Middle Earth with only a couple books written in it, and I see it as being wide open for more great stories that aren't being written. I love Middle Earth, so I want more of it. To me it's like saying, oh someone already wrote a book about New York, so no one else should write any more stories about New York. Silly. True, I do wish writers would write different plots rather than reuse Tolkien's old ones, yet I still didn't mind reading McKiernan's Iron Tower and Silver Call series, even though they blatantly ripped off Tolkien. The truth is, publishers just aren't supplying enough such stories for the many readers like me who want more of the same. So sue me, I know what I like and prefer more of that over any original stuff anyday.

  4. Everything I ever studied about writing (mainly science fiction) always emphasized how important it was to read a lot of SF so you didn't accidently create more of the same. I thought that was so important to even be considered for publication, but then when you get out there in the real publishing world you find out its readers that are driving the market. If they want more of the same, then that's what will sell.

    However, when an original book does emerge, sells and continues to pick up momenteum, then that author stands out above the rest. Like Tolkien, Rowling, etc. Sometimes great authors are dead by the time their books begin to sell.

    Part of me wonders if human nature has something to do with it. People tend to be uncomfortable with change, so they can be less inclined to try something different.

  5. I don't mind derivatives if they're derivative of something good. I don't see the point of copying shit. Oh, wait, yes I do. It's money.

  6. Brooks' stories are silimiar to Tolkien, and yes, I ate them up as a kid as well. The main difference is the Shannara books are more accessible. I've heard more than once that my first book is similar to Ender's Game, but I've never read that novel. Maybe there are only so many ideas, but it's in the way we tell it that makes the difference.

  7. Come on, no one really wants new stories. They just want retreads of the same old thing, which is why "reboots" are so popular. Incidentally that's my blog entry for next Monday, which now you can claim I ripped off from you!

  8. Incidentally neither Rowling or Meyer were all that original either. Terry Pratchett had a school for wizards in the Discworld books back in the late 80s, a full decade before Potter and I'm sure there were others before that. Plus the whole Chosen One thing is as cliche as it gets with examples in everything from Greek Mythology on down the line to Star Wars and the Matrix. And Meyer's bad boy romance triangle thing has been around as long as the romance genre and vampires have existed for well over 100 years.

    So ain't nobody original.

  9. I feel your angst having written a story that doesn't fit the mold of what's currently out there. Perhaps authors are not writing for readers, but for agents too scared to take a chance.

  10. Holy hell, Alex. You need to read Ender's Game. And having read both your book and Ender's Game, i would say any similaries are mostly due to the conventions of the genre.

    To the topic at hand, i don't know if you can use Amanda Hocking as an example of how publishing has gotten bad purely because no one would rep her, so she self pubbed. AND THEN when she made 1 million, publishers offered her a book deal because it was easy money for them.
    Though, i guess that is kind of a different example.

    I've never read Brooks and i'm actually surprised by what you said because people love it so much. BUT, for some people Tolkien is just too dense, so something derivative may be better for them.

    And whether or not they're reading something derivatibve, who cares as long as they're reading? And i'm willing to bet that all those people who start out with derivative books, will, sooner or later, branch out into other books in the genre. And more lovers of the genre is good for use because it means we get more fantasy books, tv shows and movies.

  11. LOL, Sarah, you're on the wrong blog suggesting someone read Ender's Game, right Mr. Offutt?

  12. Maybe publishing is like Hollywood now!

    "We want the same, but different."

    See: No Strings Attached versus Friends with Benefits.

  13. I guess the what and how and all that makes a huge difference to me. i don't mind books that 'world borrow' (as i think Ted is getting at with the familiarity) but the point by point plot tracking can bug me unless it is a TOTALLY fresh take. The Twilight plot though, was already borrowed from Romeo and Juliet or West Side Story--yes, a little heavy on specific details in common, but I can see each of those as stereotypical of plot building for the genre. And Twilight, for all it's hype and success, was poorly executed. (no clue about Amanda's--it isn't my genre, so I haven't read but she can hardly write worse than Meyer).

    I think there ARE original ideas and twists and we should work at finding them. Part of the trouble though, is the publishing industry doesn't know what to do with original stories and you hear 'I don't know where I'd sell this' because a truly original story is harder to describe. Big, giant money-driven conundrum...

  14. @Jen: Actually, you can just change the names.

    @Tamara: Probably. LOL. Like it matters eh?

    @Ted: I see your point Ted. However, those of us out here that "harp" on this stuff don't matter anyway because the copycats are millionaires. You coming here to defend this is like walking up to the author who is sitting in their Ferrari making more money than YOU will ever see in your life and saying "How dare you pick on these people." Then I watch said author wipe a tear off the cheek and say, "Thank you Ted. I needed you to get my back. But there still isn't room for you in my car because my poodle Tinkerbell is sitting there." Then she steps on the gas and drives off. Way to go, Ted. I'm glad you got their back. But like your point needed to be aired here anyway because (as I pointed out) the publishing industry MORE than agrees with you.

    @Cindy: Well said, Cindy.

    @Matthew: Money Money Money ==> ABBA song

    @Alex: I'm talking about a point-for-point story Alex. Not "similar". Like does your story start out with a child in a family? Said child gets taken away by the military and other siblings are jealous of child. Child goes to a facility to play games with other children. Said child excels at games. One of the games is a giant that said child defeats while in the form of a mouse? If you follow Ender's Game that closely then shame on you. But then might possibly be a millionaire. But yeah...I'm not talking about SIMILARITIES people...I'm talking THE EXACT SAME STORY WITH DIFFERENT NAMES.

    @Mutt: Great minds think alike. My brother says that anything 20 years old is a goldmine for authors. Just rewrite that as no one remembers that stuff and the publishing companies don't keep the stuff in print.

    @Em-Musing: You've brought up another topic that methinks would be appropriate for another blog post. Hmmmm. Thank you.

    @Sarah: I love Brooks. But he is a copycat on at least his debut novel. Don't believe me google it. However it hasn't stopped me from buying his books. Maybe we should all just rewrite Meyer, Tolkien, Herbert, Card, and Rowling and make a few million dollars.

    @Mutt: I'm not going to get into that on my blog. If Sarah wants to read the well-known Hugo award-winning writings of a known bigot that spews hate then she can. It's a free world.

    @Lisa: Film and books circle one another like vultures in the sky.

    @Hart: I don't mind world-borrowing. But blatant point-for-point plot tropes really irk me. And for the record, West Side Story IS Romeo and Juliet down to the balcony scene and minus the death of the girl at the end. That, however, is homage. There's difference between "homage" and stealing to pass it off as your own.

  15. I loved this post. I had to send the link to a friend who had a similar opinion. :) Oh, Alex, I was one who said your story reminded me of Ender's Game, but SO nothing like this. It only has one similar plot point, not all of them. Your book was awesome. :)

  16. The name of her troll isn't even original...

    It's fucked up because in their original folklore, they are nothing to fall in love with. Bulging, deformed and bloodthirsty monsters.

  17. This is exactly why I've become very selective about what I read. I've gotten tired of reading the same book 5 times, but with different names, and I feel like YA Paranormal is the worst about doing this. A lot of teenagers go through the same experiences, so YA books will have some similar features. HOWEVER. Just because you and I both went to kindergarten doesn't mean it was the same experience. I went to kindergarten in Guam, spent every day after school at the beach with my family, and my dad harvested bananas from our backyard with a machete. Was YOUR kindergarten experience like that? Probably not.

    I think that there are plenty of commonalities for people to have in their stories, without blatantly ripping off someone else's work. Ugh, publishing industry. Just ugh.

  18. We see it the opposite, as at least when it comes to Tolkienesque fantasy, the publishers are absolutely NOT giving us what we want. All we got was Sword of Shannara and McKiernan's books. That's it. And both of those stole plot points directly from Tolkien. I have yet to find a single book that tells a great Tolkienesque story that is all new. No, I don't see the publishers giving me what I want at all.

  19. Am I a bad nerd for just not liking the Shannara books? It wasn't the rip off just the writing that irked me.

    *sigh* desperation in the reader for more works in that happy place of Tolkien and Rowling lead to this sort of practice in authors....hell I should look into being the next Andre Norton! Wait...I'm not in high school. Crap, there goes that surefire way to be a bazillionaire.

  20. Interesting and frustrating, isn't it?

    I think there are recurrent themes (just based on the human condition) that get regurgitated all the time. It's hard to make things unique.

    On the one hand, you can't be SO out there that nobody gets it and on the other, you don't want to copy verbatim. Sometimes it's a fine line to tread.

    Nice post!

  21. I'm so glad I didn't copy anyone for my story...though it would be nice to sell a million...

  22. Nice, lots of views being aired is always fun. Personally I hated Brooks the moment I read the blurb. i think peopel take their inspiration from many places, and then there are blatant rip-offs. And it's down to personal prefernce where you draw the line. Some people will never even be aware of the source material and ignorance is bliss.

    As a young reader my love of Tolkein led me to search out Elric and Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser an all the other giants of fantasy. Occasionally I would come across a contemporary writer who was good, and that's about right, good should only come along now and again.

    I say plunder the archives!

    Moody Writing

  23. I'm not sure about getting sued - Dan Brown got sued for The Da Vinci Code, James Cameron got sued by Harlen Ellison for the Terminator (I can't recall who won, but now Harlen appears in the credits). I know JK Rowling got sued for Harry Potter...if there is a big difference I suppose it's that very successful people were sued by folks who were way less successful.

    So, if I took a lesson from your post today, it's to copy only from folks that are already very successful (monetarily), they probably won't sue you. But you copy from a poor person and they'll see you in court.

  24. Great pot as always, Michael!

    This is why I watch so many movies. If I see one particular storyline, I try my hardest not to copy them. At least not in the same order of occurrences.

    Btw. Did you ever get that book I mailed you?

  25. So are you going to base a novel on HP? I have no plans so feel free.

  26. You'd think authors would worry about plagiarism...

    I like to riff on stories. When I read (or see) something in a story that pisses me off, I tend to write my own story using that as a starting off point (and change the bit that annoyed me to something that doesn't). I would never dream of rehashing something that I liked.


  27. Even when a book isn't in the same category per se, it can use the exact same plot. If you were to compare Eragon (a huge seller, obviously) to the plot of Star Wars, you'll find even they are basically the same thing, regardless of the fact that they are two entirely different genres. A normal guy is living with his uncle because his real parents were (supposedly) killed by the "dark lord." The young man sets off on a dangerous mission with an old, haggard man while his uncle is being slaughtered by dark minions. Along the way, he journeys to a distant land to train with an ancient master, but leaves early due to a vision in which he sees his companions in peril. Also, the old man dies in the first book/movie. Similarities are undeniable.

    And by the way, it was a SILVER Volvo, not black. Just saying. :)

  28. I remember reading HP and feeling like I was getting vibes of Tolkein- the Deatheaters were just like the Ringwraiths, if you ask me. And Harry reminded me of Bilbo. There were so many of the same overarching themes there. But even beyond that- if you really want to be literary Michael, the same themes have played out for centuries. We still have the hero theme in Star Wars that was used in the Jesus story-- you know, the young man of uncertain lineage come from nowhere to save the world?? Rogue Mutt is right that we don't really want new stories. We want the same comfortable ones. And unfortunately if authors think they can make money just putting a twist on what's already been proven to work, why go to any effort at any originality? I mean really, it can take a LONG time to be truly original and creative. IT's a lot easier to spin out something that is formulaic and is similar to what everyone else is doing. And I am going to go out on a limb here: Look at how everyone talks about writing: "Dialogue looks like..." I mean I read that stuff and I wonder how they come up with original anything if all their dialogue fits a certain pattern/rule. But then, you have to follow those rules if you're going to be mainstream, I know. So, I guess I should be quiet.

  29. Yeah, I can't stand blatant rip-offs myself. Yes, there are going to be similarities in stories of the same genre and there is no such thing as an original idea, BUT a good writer can come up with something that isn't quite such an obvious copycat.

    As for the HP rip-off? Wait for it, it's coming!

  30. I hate blatant copy cats. And if you're going to do so, choose something better than Twilight.

    New writers often copy by accident. It's how they learn. Don't publish the stuff!

  31. I noticed the similarity when I read The Sword of Shannara as well. Throughout the whole thing I kept linking it in my head to LOTR.

    I agree with Theresa--I think a lot of writers start out with an idea they came across before. But a really good story should be more original than that.

    (Now that you mention it, I did come across a book that reminded me strongly of Harry Potter, once: first book in The Hound of Rowan series.)

  32. The fact he's a troll makes all the difference. I thought trolls were trolls. They can be hot? Seems an oxymoron. :)

  33. Didn't they say Avatar was Pocahontas. I was smitten by Twilight, the movie, and like M Pax said, trolls were trolls.

  34. "That, however, is homage. There's difference between "homage" and stealing to pass it off as your own."

    This is a very important point to make.

  35. I don't know! I have no answers, I'm just glad I haven't read any of these things. Except for Tolkien :-)
    I'm on my yearly reread of LOTR right now. Why would anyone need to read anything else? [cheeky grin]

  36. I hate to tell you this but that plot--low-self esteem girl new in a small town saved by the hot guy from death or a fate worst than that---has been the plot of a hundred romance novels before Stephanie Meyer. And some of them were supernatural--werewolves, vampires and so on.

    There are no new plots--only new takes on old plots.

    Okay there are a few new plots but most are just a variation on a theme.

    Hocking seems to be a little too literal but it happens.

    The movies have been doing it with great success for years.

    When a book like LOTR comes out and makes a big smash--people are starved for similiar books so the copying happens.

    In Movies---you get the same thing... Batman sells so they do Superman. Superman sells so they do XMen. Hulk flops twice so they do Batman again.

    It's the way the world works whether I like it or not.


  37. Well ..... inspiration is an organic process in the world of fiction. If you have read Campbell's '' The Hero With A Thousand Faces'' ( which btw is an excellent dissection and analysis of the structures of myths and fantasies). The world of fantasy survives and thrives on reinterpretation and recycling.... books about supernatural creature/paranormal romances, supernatural schools, dystopian had been, are being and will be written. The blueprint of fantasy that is the macro story structure already exists and cant really be changed. But you can innovate in the micro way..... you are entitled to write about supernatural or even magic schools if you so wish as long as you reinterpret them in a revolutionary way.

    Incidentally the idea of a school for the wizards where spells, potions, charms, animal transformation etc are taught... is not oven fresh. Not to discredit Ms Rowling but prototypes like the classic Wizard Of The EarthSea by Ursula Leguin, The Worst Witch series or the Wizard's Hall all dealt with the idea of teen wizards and magical education.