Are critics right in saying Speulative fiction is rarely original?


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Thread: Are critics right in saying Speulative fiction is rarely original?

  1. #1

    Are critics right in saying Speulative fiction is rarely original?

    According to a book I read today briefly called popular fiction formulas. A lot of themes, character ideas, and plot ideas are borrowed from other speculative fiction. They call speculative fiction writers hack writers. I was never one to say I like using formulas. In fact, I make all of it up. Stephen King's Carrie he (King) says was taken from a plot in some horror movie. I always supposed plot wasn't original. What I didn't know is that this kind of criticism existed. So how do you see this? Do you write by basing your stories on a preconceived plot for speculative fiction? Another different question I want to ask.

    Since it has always been a debate that fantasy and science fiction are not original because of such critics who say such things. Even writers who are very famous saying the same thing. Does that say something about how we approach plotting, and how we approach characterization?

    I realize this is a tough set of questions because there's probably no right or wrong answer in how to view this. Yes for me at least it is a sad thing for me to read people write these things. Some best-selling writers were not literary writers. So who knows.

    An example is Marcel Proust's works who are liked by critics but doesn't sell as much as others. So maybe the critic is irrelevant and the reader has more power than the critics by far. Hope this is a decent topic for discussion.
    Last edited by Theglasshouse; January 29th, 2020 at 04:01 AM.
    I would follow as in believe in the words of good moral leaders. Rather than the beliefs of oneself.
    The most difficult thing for a writer to comprehend is to experience silence, so speak up. (quoted from a member)

  2. #2
    I think there are a lot of trend chasers. Authors see a new movie or read a new book, and they think they can cash in on a trend by writing a new screenplay or novel in the same vein. Also, there are agents and editors who see something go hot and start buying stuff that's already being offered that's in the same vein (so trend chasing authors might be too late at that point).

    Part of this is because Hollywood wants safe bets. It's hard to put millions of dollars behind untested content.

    There is also the 30 and 60 year nostalgia cycles. People in their 40s now are hitting the big leagues and telling stories about when they were kids, or things they liked when they were kids. TMNT, Ghost Busters, Transformers, IT, Stranger Things, whatever... I even think the MCU is a part of that. I grew up in the 80s and 90s loving those comics, and then when I'm an adult, other adults that grew up at the same time made that content good.

    Lastly, everything is derivative if you use broad enough language. Two people fall in love while overcoming hardship. A person has to do the thing that's against their nature, and they grow as a person. A nobody made fabulous by a stroke of luck is tempted to do the wrong thing, but then does the right thing.

    Oh, your book got me used to the ordinary world, and then had an inciting incident that happened to be related to the main character's traumatic backstory, and then we read about how he overcame his inner and outer demons? How cliche! How boring!

  3. #3
    Those are fair points. In the movie business it is pretty much what you said. I don't know how it is in the book industry on the publisher side of things.

    So if we had supposedly an encyclopedic knowledge of the genre we are writing in, supposedly that would help. Also sadly using cliches which is used in a pejorative way.

    But according to this people cliches become the formula and literary fiction gets a free and favorable review in terms of originality.

    One thing is ron hubbard was called the biggest hack writer in terms of how many hacked works he wrote and copied from. Occasionally someone would break through and have something new to say. In terms of these trend setters they are rare according to what to the book I was reading.

    In the plotting cycle, it's standard in the canon in religious works that the atheist is turned into a faithful person.

    Plus if you read books on plotting mechanics for popular fiction, it seems some of this is repeated. It's unavoidable to a certain degree. What I dislike is that they say people can't have fun enjoying a good story.

    Suppoedly if I borrowed from other fiction would that then make me a poor writer? Ironically before I never take in mind the canon, but I will after I read this. So would you take up the canon of cliche plots and make it work for readers? Or would you be too ashamed to use cliches?
    Last edited by Theglasshouse; January 29th, 2020 at 04:10 AM.
    I would follow as in believe in the words of good moral leaders. Rather than the beliefs of oneself.
    The most difficult thing for a writer to comprehend is to experience silence, so speak up. (quoted from a member)

  4. #4
    I think having some knowledge of recent books can help. I started reading mostly new books, mostly by debut and traditionally published authors, to find out what's in. But sense I love fantasy, I pretty much know what the popular stuff is, and a lot of what has been popular, is popular now. Farm boys have kind of a bad rap, as far as who you can make fab with magic, but princesses are still in lol

    Anyway, if you love the genre and write a couple stories, I think you'll move away from cliche, because you'll be writing what you'd want to read, and the cliches will bother you as much as anyone.

    And some cliches aren't really bad. They are just common in the genre, so they are common in people new to writing, so it is easy to blame the content, but the writing might just not be there yet anyway.

  5. #5
    Suppoedly the book that has chronichled many on the traditional cliches or some possible plot twists would be The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker. It's respected by writers. There of course is tv guide the website which I think has a bunch of cliches listed in a web page. The 20 master plots acknowledges some plot cliches at the least.

    Also, romance was included in formula plotting as having "cliches".

    So if famous writers got away with this, it sounds like a bunch of bitter criticism. If using clichés is what works, then we should use them? It seems readers do enjoy them and the critic says they shouldn't be in a work of fiction that gets so much acclaim. Yet Carrie got acclaim and was a concept borrowed from a movie.
    Last edited by Theglasshouse; January 29th, 2020 at 04:50 AM.
    I would follow as in believe in the words of good moral leaders. Rather than the beliefs of oneself.
    The most difficult thing for a writer to comprehend is to experience silence, so speak up. (quoted from a member)

  6. #6
    I think genre fiction, by its very nature, operates within certain boundaries, and uneducated critics may confuse these boundaries for cliches. It's not a cliche for a spy thriller to include spies - it's what the genre IS. Feature, not bug.

    Similarly, there are common elements in some sub-genres of speculative fiction that are what readers EXPECT. If I buy a space opera, it'd better be in space, and it'd better have some sweeping, epic elements. If I buy urban fantasy or high fantasy or military scifi or anything else, I'm looking for certain elements. They should be there.

    Which is not to say that people aren't writing original ideas within speculative fiction, they're just doing it within a framework. The traditional framework of a band of unlikely heroes going on a quest to find/protect/control/destroy a super-powerful mystical object can be set in Middle Earth, but it can also be set in the Wild West, or elsewhere. And the characters can be richly drawn with unique details, the adventures excitingly and uniquely detailed, etc.

    As mentioned, romance (my home genre) often gets similar criticism and it's almost always coming from someone who hasn't read too widely in the genre and who hasn't LOOKED for anything too original. If the only romance you read is from the Harlequin lines that are SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED AND MARKETED as being formulaic, then, yeah, you're going to think romance is formulaic. But that's a problem with you and your reading choices, not the genre as a whole. Same with speculative fiction. There's lots of wildly creative work happening in the field, but A) it's happening within the bounds of the genre expectations and B) you have to actually read it before you can appreciate it.

  7. #7
    Thanks for posting your opinion. I pretty much agree. You said something important which is the wording is wrong. It's happening within a framework and is genre expectations.

    As of this writing I think the Oscars I read in a newspaper haven't given a prize to a science fiction movie.

    https://www.csmonitor.com/The-Cultur...n-Best-Picture

    The lack of Best Picture wins for sci-fi speaks to a larger misunderstanding of the genre, says Levinson.
    "People just have trouble accepting science fiction as something that has relevance to our real life, which science fiction at its best does," he says.
    I can see romance speaking to a greater audience than science fiction in this respect. Does this mean that critics don't seem to think characters are in real life situations? If we go by the above article.

    So if this is the case? I am not sure how to fix this misperception. But on the other hand if this is a key criticism we can try to improve the work by making characters have more emotional identification for the audience.

    Sure the critic says its probably too fantastical going by this quote. Am I wrong? It's the genre of the future. I don't know but I wanted to bring this up because of the oscar newspaper article.

    I can emotionally relate to et, which is almost human in its plot. Why it never won in the oscars best picture with a director who was steven spielberg is beyond my understanding.
    I would follow as in believe in the words of good moral leaders. Rather than the beliefs of oneself.
    The most difficult thing for a writer to comprehend is to experience silence, so speak up. (quoted from a member)

  8. #8
    Member Tomkat's Avatar
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    Like you said, no right or wrong. I agree with that.
    Dan Brown said all stories have already been told in one way or the other.

  9. #9
    40,000 years ago a cave-man painted a picture of a bull on a cave wall. 39,999 years ago another drew a picture of a woolly mammoth, and was promptly told he was unoriginal.
    “Fools” said I, “You do not know
    Silence like a cancer grows
    Hear my words that I might teach you
    Take my arms that I might reach you”
    But my words like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence : Simon & Garfunkel


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  10. #10
    Member Tomkat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Terry D View Post
    40,000 years ago a cave-man painted a picture of a bull on a cave wall. 39,999 years ago another drew a picture of a woolly mammoth, and was promptly told he was unoriginal.
    This is awesome. And by critics' standards, it seems so true! [insert fat laugh here]

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