Wednesday, July 28, 2010

All Carrots are the Same in the Dark

Like that title? It’s a line of dialogue I “borrowed” from a German soap and “repurposed”. Two practices I'm very much in favor of. Words are meant to be played with, after all. They're meant to be strung together like Pop-It Beads, taken apart and used again. However, there are times when our glib reusing of words goes a little too far.
I recently read the second book in a new erotic/paranormal/LGBT series—and lord knows we don't have enough of them, IMO. I thought it showed promise. Now, I’m not so sure. Book 2 featured a sizable subplot involving the main characters from Book 1. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, in fact it’s one of my favorite things about writing series, the chance to go back and revisit couples whose HEAs are still WIP.
Since, as I mentioned, this is an erotic series, I can especially understand why the author might have felt the need to bring in additional characters. For reasons which I can’t go into without giving away too much of the story, the main characters in Book 2 really can't get together until close to the end of the book. Obviously, she had to show somebody having sex during the first 7/8s of the book—right? And, yeah. Been there, done that too.

However, I'm really kind of fuming at this point because as I was reading the final love scene between the subplot characters it began to sound familiar. Really familiar. Almost as though I’d read this same, exact scene somewhere before…
I know what some of you are probably thinking, at this point. Aren’t most sex scenes simply replays of other scenes you’ve read or written or watched before? Isn’t it all just a matter of sticking Tab A into Slot B?  Or, in other words, aren’t all carrots the same in the dark?
See what I just did? See how I changed that same string of words from dialogue to title to cogent point?  Keep that in mind as we go forward.
Let’s get back to the question, whose answer, by the way, is no. I, and most of the authors I know, work really hard to make sure that we don’t just blatantly repeat things; that we make each scene, and each character as unique as possible. We make an ongoing effort not to replay the same relationships in book after book, not to use (or overuse) the same words, to make sure our descriptions are fresh and different and new.
And, yes, part of the reason for that is because we’d be bored out or our minds writing the same story or the same characters or—god forbid—the same sex over and over and over again. But mostly we do it out of respect for the characters, the story, our readers and the craft of writing itself.
But getting back to my story...
At first, I thought it was accidental. Perhaps the author of this once seemingly promising series had  been distracted and didn’t even realize she was using a lot of the same words to describe her characters and their actions. I even tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, thinking maybe she was doing it on purpose (albeit clumsily) to really hammer home the point that these characters were still the same people who’d been having sex in Book 1.
After a couple of pages, however, I realized it was more than that. She'd virtually lifted an entire scene from the first book and dumped it into the second book with only minor changes.  There were identical descriptions, identical bits of dialogue, whole paragraphs that had been copied verbatim. This continued throughout the otherwise decent, fairly lengthy and supposedly pivotal scene.
And, no, in case you’re wondering, this was not a flashback either. That’s something else I’ve done and it’s another practice I favor. Revisiting scenes from previous books, reminding readers about scenes they may have loved reading as much as you loved writing them—that's all good. But this… This was something different. I don’t even know what to call it. Laziness? Carelessness? Egregious disrespect?
Maybe she thought she could get away with it; that we wouldn’t care because it was just sex, and isn’t it all the same anyway? Maybe she was working on a deadline or had a word count she needed to meet and nothing else was coming to mind. Clearly her editor didn’t seem to mind. And, yes, same editor for both books. I checked. I get curious like that!
As a reader, however, it left me feeling frustrated and confused; wondering which scene had been the “real” scene and which was the counterfeit?  It was the literary equivalent of breaking the fourth wall, or like cutting the strings that had kept my disbelief suspended. I could no longer think of those characters as even the tiniest bit real or view their relationship as anything like authentic.

I feel as though I've been cheated out of something that could have been wonderful. And I think  the author cheated herself as well. I'm sure I'll approach every new book she writes with trepidation (if at all) wondering when’s the next time the fictional world she's created—with no small amount of skill, incidentally—will suddenly, and for no good reason, come crashing down around me.


Debra St. John said...

Wow. I can't say I've ver read a book wehre the exact smae scene was used from something previously. But I have read books by the same author whose sex scenes are similiar in wording and action.

I agree...the characters we create deserve to have a unique story-line all their own...and that includes their love scenes. I've been "taught" that even dialogue in sex scenes should be unique to the characters...not just a lot of moaning and "now, now" s!

Erin Nicholas said...

Interesting PG. I've never seen that before either. I will say all my favorite multi-published authors definitely have things that they use regularly, but that's part of their style. Which obviously I like :) But yeah, having a word-for-word replay, no way.

And aren't we all happy that there's more than Tab A and Slot B?? *G*


Kelly Jamieson said...

Wow! That's pretty disappointing.

I actually once tried to do that - althought it was different characters. I lifted a sex scene from a manuscript I was sure would never sell and tried to insert it into my WIP. I thought the scene was pretty good and yes, I was being lazy.

It TOTALLY DID NOT WORK. The characters' dialogue was all wrong for them, their emotions and internalizations were all wrong for where they were at in the story, and they were doing things that weren't consistent with who they were. A sex scene is SO not just a sex scene. It should be a turning point in the story,something that moves the story and the characters' journey forward. Or creates an obstacle for them in their journey. Whatever. I learned my lesson - but obviously this author of whom you speak didn't.

The scene that should have been written should have been entirely different given that those characters were at a different point in their relationship and their journeys. That's really too bad that she didn't take the opportunity to explore that.

Meg Benjamin said...

The author in question tried to pull a fast one, which was a crappy thing to do (did she really think no one would notice?). That said, I've seen some authors who have "signatures" that show up again and again in their love/sex scenes. One particular author has a three-scene progression that I swear shows up in every single book, along with a set of phrases she loves to use. She isn't exactly plagiarizing herself (and she's very popular so obviously her fans don't care), but you can help wondering how long this will continue.

PG Forte said...

I agree, Deb.Even though most of us try to make each scene unique, I think we all have patterns and habits that are hard to break and, like Erin says, that can be part of our style and something our readers look forward long as it doesn't go too far.

I think Kelly hit on exactly the thing that annoyed me the most--the characters had changed and grown, they weren't in the same emotional place and yet there they were going through all the same motions, exchanging the exact same dialogue. It was...weird.

And, Meg,I think what shocked me even more than the idea that author would think no one would notice was the idea that her editor thought the same thing! Unless the editor really didn't notice--which left me feeling disappointed with the entire industry!

Sydney Somers said...

Bummer. When it's done right, sex scenes are always about more than just gettin' it on, with the emotional components just as, if not more important than going through the actual motions. It's too bad that author forgot about that part, otherwise you might have not felt so cheated.