Cookie-cutters

In Write Away, Elizabeth George, one of my favorite writers, calls John Fowles the “incomparable” because he “was always out there, never writing the same book twice. He took big risks. Sometimes they paid off, and sometimes they didn’t.” (201)

I totally share her admiration for John Fowles and can say the same thing about Colum McCann, whose prose is breathtakingly beautiful, and whose novels (Let the Great World Spin, Zoli, and Dancer that I’ve read) differ greatly from one another.

Unless they create series, I admire writers who try different genres or, at least, avoid formulaic plots. In short, I don’t like cookie-cutters, and I’m quite surprised at some gifted writers who are hung up on them, for whatever reason. Maybe because it’s easier? Or it’s less time-consuming to whip them up, because they’re on a writing treadmill—a book a year? Some choose similar characters in every novel (a plain, lonely woman in her 30’s-40’s, searching for love) or a predictable plot (great love ending in the death of one lover), and such.

I feel sad about discovering an exciting author, falling in love with his/her prose, wanting to read all of his/her books, only to be disappointed after reading another two because they’re so similar to the previous one. In fact, they’re so similar that all three (or four!) blend in my mind into one. (Like all those movies with Jennifer Aniston, who always plays herself, not even bothering to change her hairstyle.) Huh? I think, and stop reading that author’s work. Done. Not interested. Which is the saddest thing not only for me, but for those writers too because they lose an avid reader.

Needless to say that I, as an author, don’t want to create cookie-cutters. So far, my three novels are different in genre and narration. Disengaged, coauthored with my friend, is a romantic suspense, written in epistolary form. Without Thinking Twice is a romance, narrated by four protagonists (two women and two men). A Measure of Guilt, a mystery, is written from the third person point of view. My fourth one, which I’m working on now, is a thriller, a sequel to my third one, narrated by two protagonists, alternatively. Even though the two characters are from the previous novel, they are now the narrators, which makes this book different, even if slightly. I do hope it’ll sound and feel different for my readers.

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2 thoughts on “Cookie-cutters

  1. While I do agree with you that cookie-cutter plots and writing styles of some authors can get so repetitive and boring as to lose some readers’ attention, I kind of understand why they keep being written and sold in great numbers. I think for some readers it’s the comfort of a “sure thing” – when they buy yet another book by, say, Nicholas Sparks, they know exactly what they are going to get from page one. After a long, tiring day at work it might be a good way to unwind and relax without straining neither the body nor the mind. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, so to speak, but thousands, if not millions of people enjoy exactly that.
    As for the authors, I am not sure why they would write same-old, same-old for years on end, but I suspect that it has to do at least in part with money. If a series with the same characters and/or plot sells well, the demand for a “continuation” is great, why not keep the readers happy and keep the cash coming in all at the same time? I might very well be wrong and appear overly cynical, but it’s certainly possible that authors keep churning out “cookie-cutters” not necessarily for themselves, but for their legion of fans and the money, I’m sure is not a deterrent.
    Thoughts?

    • Vin, thanks for your comment and insight. I do agree with you on every point, especially about a series. I personally love a series and always start with the first book and don’t skip until I reach the latest one. I’ve read all of the mystery novels by Dennis Lehane, Elizabeth George, Tess Gerritsen, to name a few, and I’m watching for their new releases. Regarding other genres, when a writer whips up the “same-old,” like you say, I just lose interest, period. I liked the first three novels by Nicholas Sparks, and that was it! I couldn’t read his formulaic plots anymore. Now, Claire Cook? She’s talented. Her prose is like a magnet–you want to read it, but…after five novels I said, That’s it, I can’t read about yet another pathetic woman striving for others’ understanding and blah blah blah. She just lost me. Sad. Because I was VERY enthusiastic about her work! But I can’t take only this much 🙂
      But, fortunately, we readers are all different, and some, I’m sure, enjoy reading similar books, and there’s nothing wrong with that, I suppose. I just expressed my opinion, for the sake of discussion, if nothing else. 🙂

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