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[writing] Seeing your own tropes up close and personal - Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2012-07-09 05:01
Subject: [writing] Seeing your own tropes up close and personal
Security: Public
Tags:books, green, mainspring, other me, process, trial, writing
I've been doing a close line read and light revision pass of Other Me, my short YA science fiction novel with bonus identity paranoia. It's been an interesting experience for a couple of reasons.

For one, I wrote this quite a few years ago, before the cancer with its surgeries and chemotherapies. Yet I find I remember a great deal about this book. Color me mildly surprised. Its interesting how deep some things run.

Second, I am very amused to see how my tropes repeat themselves. I already know about this. We all do it. In my case, I write about lost boys, mechanical men, hidden underground tunnels, layered truths, self-discovery, and oddball animals. There are elements of Other Me that to my eye clearly tie back to Mainspring, to Green, to Trial of Flowers.

I don't think I'm plagiarizing myself. I do wonder a bit if I am repeating myself. On the other hand, should I be writing de novo every time I launch into a story? I find myself wondering where the balance lies between repetition and novelty.

Got no answers, but got more questions. Ah, the writing life.

Your thoughts?

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Keikaimalu
User: keikaimalu
Date: 2012-07-09 13:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I write to try to answer my deep internal questions. I never do really find answers to most of them, so I end up writing with similar themes frequently. But I think they're universal questions, and approaching them from slightly different angles doesn't mean I'm repetitive, just persistent. :)
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a_cubed
User: a_cubed
Date: 2012-07-09 14:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Jack Chalker once wrote a book which wasn't about bodily transformation. It sold poorly and got a lot of criticism from his regular readers that it wasn't really a "Jack Chalker novel". The moral of this is to not get stuck on the same single theme for too long. On the other hand it's good to have ideas that you come back to and consder from different angles with new character and new situations, particularly if you can set up a dialectic or multi-lectic between the different variations on a theme you're presenting.
So long as it doesn't become formulaic, and that you remain aware and thoughtful about your themes, I think you should be OK.
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matt_doyle
User: matt_doyle
Date: 2012-07-09 15:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The deuteragonist in my first novel and the protagonist in my second novel are both smooth-talking morally ambivalent blonde prettyboy magicians with compulsive loyalty issues. Which makes them sound much, much more alike than they are, but I was deeply embarrassed to realize the laundry list of traits they had in common when the books are different in so many other ways.
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barbarienne
User: barbarienne
Date: 2012-07-09 20:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think you just sold me with "smooth-talking morally ambivalent blonde prettyboy magician with compulsive loyalty issues." That pings my radar far more than any discussion of plot!
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matt_doyle
User: matt_doyle
Date: 2012-07-09 20:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Haha, well, if you're interested, both the finished and the unfinished novel are up on my journal. I'm still hoping to get them published, so they're under friendslock, but I'm always happy to have more beta-readers / a bigger audience.
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User: tillyjane
Date: 2012-07-09 23:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think you sold me with /deuteragonist/. New word, hooray! Now I am going to look it up. TJ
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matt_doyle
User: matt_doyle
Date: 2012-07-09 23:56 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Haha, I agree that deuteragonist is a fantastic word.
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sheelangig
User: sheelangig
Date: 2012-07-09 19:04 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)

All y'all are talking about writing issues. What I got out of this is that while your big fun cancer experience may have changed and/or touched everything, you're still essentially you.

That's a win.
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barbarienne
User: barbarienne
Date: 2012-07-09 20:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This. +1. ::hitting the "like" button::
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barbarienne
User: barbarienne
Date: 2012-07-09 20:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I creep myself out a little when I see the themes and tropes that repeat across my work (#1: characters I intend for the reader to simultaneously hate and like). But this is common to most writers, isn't it? Isn't this part of what makes a writer distinct? Part of what defines their work?

I thought the whole thing about being a writer is to be true to your own voice. "Voice" is not just the way the words are put together, but also the things the writer focuses on that are not the same as things a different writer would focus on. As the writer changes with age, the same items may be looked at in different ways, or the same analysis may be applied to different items. It's part of a continuity of the writer thinking about a topic.
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