Chatty Cathys

Talk Amongst Yourselves: Recycling Plots

One of the biggest comments (and criticisms) that I often use and see in book reviews is that certain scenes, characters, themes, etc. “feel Twilighty*.” (This post was inspired by Reutreads – check her out!)

Twilighty (adj) – refers to Twilight by Stephenie Meyer; similar or like Twilight

I’m sure at one point in time this was actually a GOOD thing, but now it’s almost insulting to have something referred to being Twilighty. Another insult would be calling a character too “Bella Swan,” but that’s a whole nother discussion.

In just about every English/Literature class you can take you’ll at some point learn about archetypes and what the different ones are. Don’t ask me what they are because I honestly can’t remember them, but in every book there’s at least one that shows up in some form or fashion (please don’t quote me on this). But I got to thinking… are there plot archetypes? Plotatypes? Plarchetypes?

The more I’ve been reading and blogging and reading other blogs the more I see that there are a lot of similar plots going around. Not necessarily plots I guess; more like themes. Here is one:

Boy meets girl -> they hate each other but are drawn to each other -> crazy life-altering experience happens -> boy and girl fall in love -> girl’s best friend is in love with her -> boy and best friend hate each other -> crazy life-altering experience happens -> girl has feelings for both boys -> crazy life-altering experience happens -> girl chooses original boy -> best friend falls in love with girl’s monster baby daughter

Okay, I added that last part in there… but you see? Up until that line that plot could be a number of books. But is this a bad thing? Is it bad to use a plot that has proven to work?

Personally, I don’t think so. Plots are plots and with as many books as there are out there, there’s really no possibility that there’s going to be a totally original plot. I think what makes plots “original” are the characters and “crazy life-altering experience” that they’re faced with. That’s what tends to freshen up a somewhat overused plot.

Maybe you’ve already read a book about a girl who enters a magical world and has to slay a dragon. The girl was timid and shy but while in the magical world found her strength and courage and was able to slay the dragon. Now, what if the girl was already a badass before she entered the magical world and knew kickass sword skills but the dragon was a kindly dragon who liked to sing songs and read fairy tales? See? Plot is basically the same but you’ve got a whole new set of characters who are going to react differently.

Seriously… would you slay him?!

So what do you do when you get to a plot and you think “I JUST read this in Twilight!”? Does it make your experience with the book bad or do you try to focus on the differences between your current read and older reads? Or does that help to enhance your reading experience?

*Please note that I do not hate Twilight nor do I discourage others from reading it.

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8 thoughts on “Talk Amongst Yourselves: Recycling Plots”

  1. Funny you should bring this topic up since I am currently reading The Flight of Gemma Hardy which is described as an homage to Jane Eyre. If you are talking about recycling plot elements, what about recycling an entire book? It bothers me a little bit that you can get away with such a blatant retelling of the same story, yet I am enjoying Gemma Hardy in spite of myself. Perhaps I am such a Jane Eyre fangirl that even a total rehashing of the characters and plot makes me happy? I don’t know. I have also read Jane Eyre SO MANY TIMES that I cannot help making constant comparisons, though that sort of enhances the reading experience, while possible diminishing my ability to rate Gemma Hardy as an independent work.

    I suppose if you like the plot elements being repeated or if they have some universal significance then it’s cool. If they’re contrived or personally irritating (see: love triangles) then it becomes throw-the-book-across-the-room frustrating.

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    1. Oh, love triangles… I can’t stand them! I like retellings (like you mentioned Jane Eyre) but only if they’re done uniquely and the writer makes the tale her/his own. Otherwise I feel they’re just cheap copies of someone else’s work.

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  2. Great post! I tooootally know what you mean. That’s how I felt when I read Shiver by Maggie Steifvater – Granted, that may be a little unfair because I don’t normally read stories with werewolf plotlines (in fact, the only one I’ve read was in Twilight), so I couldn’t help but think “Twilight, Twilight, Twilight” the whole book. I mean, I was picturing this kid as Taylor Lautner because his description was just close enough. Although the concept WAS different, I just couldn’t get Twilight out of my head. Just little thingsin the plot here and there kept pulling me back to the book and I think that’s why I was so uninterested. I really like Twilight and totally fangirl over the movies coming out, but I just kept comparing it and it wasn’t nearly as good. So sigh. It’s a phenomenon! I think it’ll happen to many people!

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    1. Totally agree. There have been a few books that I think “okay… this is Twilight!” but try to focus on what makes them different, what makes them unique, and that tends to help. I haven’t read Shiver, but definitely don’t get into the whole werewolf thing. Not really my cup of tea!

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  3. You can’t be too hard on authors for using recycled plot lines. Pretty much every book out there is recycled to an extent. Like you said, it comes down to how the author differentiates him/herself from other books. If it’s basically the same book but with different names I will be annoyed. If it’s the same basic plot line but with a very different ‘flavor’, I’d probably enjoy it.

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    1. Good point… I think when there are huge trends, like vampires a few years ago, everything seems to be the exact same book. I mean, I guess if the formula works why not go with it, but as a reader I definitely want to spice up my reading with DIFFERENT books, not the same one over and over and over again. If that were the case, I’d just reread what I already have!

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  4. There really aren’t that many different kinds of stories out there. I mean, I’d say 99% of the books I read are bildungsromans/coming of age stories. Maybe this is because I largely read YA…

    As for plot devices, recently my favourite books are the ones that take those plot devices and throw them in your face. Just when you think you know what’s going to happen because hey I just read this in books A, B, and C, the author is like lol nope here’s something you weren’t expecting. Most recently this happened in Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, which I highly recommend.

    Also, I love love-hate relationships, but I hate the addition of a best friend love triangle. Usually. It’s really a book by book kind of thing.

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  5. Usually I’m pretty tolerant of the “Twilight plot” but in the case of Obsidian, it REALLY bothered me. I didn’t like the attempted rape as a plot line then, and I don’t like it now.

    …which is a whole ‘nother discussion.

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