Discussion: Do Truly Unique Books Exist?

DiscussionOriginal

Within a book loving community such as our own, an often heard criticism is how cliche-ridden or trope-filled certain books are. However, I realise that plenty of the books I ADORE also follow an expected pattern. Is it truly possible to reinvent the wheels of story telling? Is it necessary?

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The obvious issue with cliche is because it comes across as lazy, it also makes the book predictable. You’re all well read people here, so I won’t insult you by explaining why that’s bad. I can also see how tropes are easy traps to fall in while writing. Although I am not a writer myself, some scenarios just writes themselves – they’re so irresistible because they have been ingrained into our psychology. A poor protagonist who lives virtuously and realises their dreams. A rebel fighting against a larger than life cause. A bickering pair who slowly falls for one another. They’re stories we have seen again and again – to the point where we have to roll our eyes a little when we see it play out once more in our latest read. Why should I bother reading a 400 pages book when I already know the ending? Good will triumph. The despotic ruler will fall. They will get together.

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However, I would argue that it’s the journey, rather than the outcome that matters. For every single trope filled book I rated 2 stars, there’s another cliche ridden novel I am still raving about. See my love for Golden Son, which features a lowly Red slave rising up to meet his oppressors – yet I still root for his cause. See my love for Six of Crows, which features more bickering relationship than you could shake a stick at – yet each one totally owns my heart and fangirling soul. I find I don’t mind the predictability of the plot as long as the characters come alive and develop from it. I don’t quite care about the ending, sometimes it’s a forgone conclusion. I want to see how the characters get there, and how they conquer their obstacles along the way – that’s one of the reasons why I read.

As a regular reader, I find it hard to find books that can truly surprise me – I’m sure it is a sentiment we can all agree with. Even the act trope subversion is becoming something quite expected – with the antihero increasingly rising in popularity in recent years (and don’t we all love him?) As such, even the smallest acts of changes in plot details is enough to keep me entertained and on my toes. See Catherynne Valente’s novel, which are fully cognizant of the cliche in their plot lines – but also offers wonderful insight and startling subversions of expectations, especially in the treatment of female figures. See any book with the epistolary format such as The Dead House or Illuminae, which tells the same old tale through another lens – keeping things fun and fresh.

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There is a reason why some stories are told time and again. It’s because in the process of reading and writing, we get to gleam at answers about humanity or social interaction that we would not otherwise ponder. What is the purpose of a dystopia, if not to commentate on the current political and social situation? What is the purpose of The Chosen One, if not to assure that there may be a larger purpose or destiny waiting for us? There is a fine line between using a cliche storyline to help answer one of life’s tough questions, and just plain falling trap to common plot devices. I think that with the former, I find myself engage in the story, regardless of whether I know the conclusion.


 

Do you think there can be a truly unique story that does not use any elements from older stories or myths? What’s the most creative book you have ever read? What separates a predictable book from one you can truly embrace and enjoy?

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Aentee

Aentee

I'm Aentee, a 20-something lover of books and shiny things. By day, I attempt to prescribe books to all the patients in my optometry clinic. By night, I read books, watch TV, and spend way too much time on twitter.

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  1. says

    Hi Aentee.
    No, I don’t think one can write a book without engaging the works that went on before us. Going back to Homers Iliad, the Odyssey, and Aesops Fables, these stroytellers built their skills on top of others. Aristotle sets out rules for storytelling. You don’t have to follow these patterns, but the best storytellers do. A reader or listener is unconsciously aware of when conflict should arise for the protagonist. A good writer will have an innate sense of ‘when’ something occurs in the story. If certain actions do not occur in the proper place, the reader will lose interest.

    I can’t tell you a completely original book, but I can name a favourite. Neal Stephensons ‘Baroque Cycle’.

    IMO a pattern in a book does not necessarily make it predictable. If a twist occurs right where it ought to, this does not strike me as predictable.

    Great discussion post, Aentee.
    Happy Reading!
    ~Icky.

  2. says

    I think that, yes, there are stories that can still surprise us. Look at Uprooted, The Bone Season series, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly, All the Rage, The Scorpion Rules, Jellicoe Road, and Midwinterblood, and a lot more books I know I am forgetting. They are out there. Sure, I certainly love my books that tell the same story over and over, such as The Orphan Queen, and the Lunar Chronicles, Stitching Snow, etc etc, but I think it comes down to the quality. You could tell what was going to happen in Cinder. But it still captured your heart. You cared about them characters. Then you have books like Shatter Me, where it is as bland and basic as can be, it is run of the mill, basic storytelling with no flair. So it comes down to the writer, and what they can bring to the table. If I care about the characters, then I love the book. That is what I get out of it.
    Lyn Kaye recently posted…Book Review: UprootedMy Profile

  3. says

    I never really thought about how stories usually have a constant plot of point A to point Z, but like you said I think it’s the adventure of the story that keeps the reader invested. I’ve read a lot of books, but I try not to let books obvious influences overlap the overall story (unless it feels like an almost ripoff). I also think writing has a lot of sway in the overall enjoyment of the story. Great post!
    Sarah J. recently posted…Book Haul: I Have an AddictionMy Profile

  4. says

    This is so interesting because I recently wrote about the same issue. I really think it doesn’t matter if a book uses cliches, even if you hate them, because it’s the storytelling that matters. It seems almost impossible to write something with none of the elements anyone else has used. And if you do, you’re taking a big gamble because maybe people wouldn’t want to read it. All the popular YA books like Divergent or the Hunger Games might not have gained as much popularity if there wasn’t a book before them where people could say “well if you like X book, then you’ll probably like this one.” I completely agree with you about there being a reason why the same stories are told over and over again. And if you’re a good writer you can make a common archetype fresh and unique despite this.
    Liselle @ Lunch-Time Librarian recently posted…Diversity in Books: Is there a ‘right’ way to do it? – Discussion PostMy Profile

  5. says

    I must agree with you that is not the use of tropes or cliches that puts me off a book… in the many many years since the invention of the printed word, almost everything has been written (and more than once while we’re at it) but everything can be done with a new spin or a new twist, and a book with a rather familiar theme can be done in such a way that it’ll be a breath of fresh air!
    Pili @ In Love With Handmade recently posted…Tell Me Tuesdays #35!!My Profile

  6. says

    I HEART THIS POST SO HARD GIRL! And yes, I agree! To me, I don’t mind so much that there are cliches (especially the ones with the bickering characters that FINALLY get together and all that) I don’t mind those at all as long as the process it takes for the characters to get where they need to get is done in an efficient and timely manner, I DON’T MIND.

    Thanks for such an eye opening discussion A! <3

  7. says

    I think that stories can have TONS of unique elements but that there IS a certain pattern of telling a story that will never make a book completely 100% unique. I mean, think of it this way: There are a finite number of human experiences. And an even lower number of experiences that we want to read about (I mean, I just drank some coffee, but no one is writing a book about that). Even in fantasy books, it is the human element that draws us in. There are just prevailing themes that I don’t think we’ll ever escape from, because they are OUR life themes. But like you said, there ARE ways to make them fresh, like Illuminae did! But when it comes down to it, even with Illuminae, themes were the same: Love, death, fighting for survival, trust, war, illness, family… I could go on, but you know what I mean hahah. Great post!
    Shannon @ It Starts At Midnight recently posted…This Week At Midnight (96)My Profile

  8. says

    Like you said, characters can really make a book come alive for the reader but I do think unique books exist and (can still be written). Yes some stories do use elements from other stories I’ve read but that doesn’t mean I’m not genuinely surprised by the plot twists or that I know what will happen next (because if I do, I just skip to the end or ditch the book!). Some very creative & unique books I read last year are The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Bone Gap and The Weight of Feathers. I think what made these stand out to me were because of the author’s writing style and how the characters felt very real to me. Maybe I haven’t read enough yet (or I refuse to see that every story is really not that original) but I still have hope that there are stories waiting to be told and that not every story has been told.
    Rachana @ Addicted to YA recently posted…i ‘m (sort-of) rewriting vivid!My Profile

  9. says

    There are some tropes I really love, and I’m happy when they show up in the book I read, however, there are others that make me roll my eyes and want to turn my kindle off and do something else instead. I think this is in big part just personal preferences, and so, it’s good that some stories do follow tropes, because, as you said, it’s the journey that matters.
    Also, if I feel like reading something that just makes me smile, with a sweet romance, I know what kind of book to pick up to give me my happily ever after. Other times, though, I really do want to be surprised, and that proves more difficult the more books I read.
    Great post, Aentee!
    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews recently posted…The Sunday Post #66 – King Winter has ArrivedMy Profile

  10. says

    Wow, flawlessly said! It is most definately about the journey. I could not have said it as well as you have here but it IS possible to have a 5 star book involving cliches, and of course some 2 stars as well. It kind of drives me crazy when I hear someone say they are sick of a certain cliche or troupe. They say there are only seven basic plots in literature and yet – there are so many fabulous books out there are tales yet to be told! Every writer has the same brush but they dont all paint the same picture. GREAT post!

  11. says

    I’ll never forget in one of my writing classes back in college, when this topic came up, and the professor/author said that writing really repeats itself. and that none of us will ever truly write something absolutely unique. Some of the students go so angry at her, that they quit the class. They thought that they were going to write something that had never been written about/totally unique. Silly people :) I do occasionally find books that seem totally new/unique, but I know the idea behind the book has been inspired from something else. That’s ok though, because every author has the chance to make a story their own in some way!
    Sara recently posted…Off the Books #1 {the stuff that happens when I’m not reading}My Profile

  12. says

    There’s a saying that there are really only seven stories that refers to the same thing you’re observing. For me it isn’t so much the story itself, but how it is told. There may be only a few basic stories, but there are thousands of ways to tell those stories! (If that makes sense.)
    Kelly recently posted…BlogademicsMy Profile

  13. Bekah says

    I can’t believe I stumbled across this. I just recently was reading a vitriolic comment war about cliches in fantasy writing. One person asserted that utilizing *any* creature that had been utilized before (elves, dwarves, Wizards, dragons, etc.) was cliche, unless the creature bore no resemblance whatsoever to those that came before. Then he said something I thought I’d read wrong. It was something akin to the following: “People are just so stupid. As long as a book satisfies their desire to be entertained, they just don’t care how original it is.”

    I thought to myself, well….yeah. I mean, that’s why I read: to be entertained. Cliches and overused creatures/plots/etc. are only bad, in my opinion, insofar as they affect the entertainment value. If elves are used in an exciting and interesting plot, who cares? If the same old “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back,” is told with interesting characters and great dialogue, who cares? As long as at the end of the book, I feel like it was time well spent, that I was better off having read this book than not, I think that’s really all you can ask for.

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