Yesterday, I reviewed a book that appeared (to me) to have a lot of very evident influences. This got me thinking about ingredients, which if course reminded me of my post on the recipe for a good book. That made me want to extend the food/book metaphor a little bit farther, but in order to do that, I'm going to have to ask you to contemplate these chocolate chip cookies:Done? Good. Let's proceed.
I read pretty extensively in a couple of genres, so it's only natural that after awhile, certain plot devices, storylines, surprise twists, and what have you will start to look familiar. I'm going to present my argument here that, when it comes to stories and books, familiar isn't necessarily a bad thing. Of course, it may not be a good thing either- read on for details.
Paranormal romance and urban fantasy books for me are like chocolate chip cookies. More than likely, they have the same essential structure and consist of similar elements (ingredients.) The ingredients (setting, characterization, magical woo woo, romance, sex, whatever) may be present in different quantities, but, if you stick to similar proportions, you'll get the same result (and the same reaction from me) every time.
That's all well and good, but it goes without saying that a truly memorable book has to deviate from the standard recipe a little and create something different. Maybe you put nuts in your chocolate chip cookies. Well, that creates something different from the same old same old, and that result is pretty savory and delicious. Or, maybe you put bleach in your chocolate chip cookies, and the results are decidedly less positive.
Let me put this another way. My favorite paranormal romance/urban fantasy books have all stayed true to their roots as members of that genre; their origins as chocolate chip cookies, so to speak. But there was some secret ingredient- great setting, exceptional worldbuilding, really excellent chemistry between the hero and heroine, snarky/hilarious narration (nuts, peanut butter, caramel, toffee, etc. etc.) that changed the recipe just enough to leave a lasting impression.
Being true to one's roots is an excellent thing to do, but it's definitely important to put your own spin on things as well. Add your nuts, your gooey candies, your secret ingredients! Crumble your cookies and embed them in other recipes (when good romance shows up in fantasy and sci-fi I pretty much squeal like a little girl)! And hey, sometimes what sounds like a really strange combination (bacon chocolate chip cookies anyone?) is in fact a really unique, fun, and tasty idea.
So is it wrong for influences or familiar devices to be incorporated into a story? No! Do I welcome and encourage writers to add unique flavor to their books? Yes! And hey, even if a book presents itself as the most perfect exemplar as a chocolate chip cookie ever to grace the planet, well, sometimes a chocolate chip cookie is delicious all on its own.
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