We live in a cynical world. How many times have you heard (or uttered) the words: “That story is just like …” It baffles me when people are worried about stories being similar. Every story doesn’t need to be a unique snowflake for them to be good. When it comes to things like plot, we’re really just moving around existing puzzle pieces and making something interesting by its execution.
I recently read the Japanese light novel “All You Need is Kill” under the recommendation of a family member. It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard about it, my lady-friend has been telling me about it for some time. Like most things in life I ended up reading it on a bus-ride home— in one sitting. This is a big deal for me. I’ve grown critical over books since I started writing so for that reason alone it takes me a while to knock one out, even a short one like “Kill”.
Point blank, the novel centers on a time loop, something fiction has done to death. The book isn’t interesting by default because it has a time loop in it, though; it is interesting because of what it does with said time loop. People guard their concepts of plot like gold, because they’re worried about plagiarism. However, the plot is rarely the star of the show. It is the events surrounding the plot that make the story.
I still respect spoilers (so I won’t be talking about details of “Kill”) but it takes three things to make me interested enough to start a book.
- An interesting main character
- An interesting scenario
- An interesting style
From there it’s all about keeping the promise and justifying I made a good choice to commit to the book. If an interesting plot was all you needed to make a dynamite story we could get the same enjoyment out of reading flash cards with plot twists on them. I read on because of the connection I form with the character. I read on because I am immersed in the world and its mythos. I read on because I’ve forgotten I’m reading. “Kill” does that.
People often use comparisons in a negative light, but when you say something like: “Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers” you’re only setting the stage.
“All You Need is Kill starts with the same approach as Groundhog Day, a Japanese soldier fresh out of boot camp replaces the quirky weatherman and the a war against alien earthworms replaces the Groundhog Day festivities.” So obviously there’s a small shift in tone.
Just like Groundhog Day there’s a twist and a resolution, but that is ANY story. I could tell you a brief synopsis of both stories and you’d still want to watch/read them. The reason why Groundhog Day is a good movie is because Bill Murray is funny. The moments in the move justify watching it, not the concept. If anything the plot of a story is just a vessel to deliver the chain of unforgettable moments within. The twist and resolution of the story is a payoff, a reward for joining the author on the journey.
After reading “Kill” I tracked down the Manga adaptation of it and I plan to see “Edge of Tomorrow” not because I want to know what happens in it, but because I’m interested to see how they handle the concept. I know “Tommorrow” shifts the story a bit, but that is part of the joy of seeing adaptations of stories. Like the “Walking Dead” it’s pretty fun to be surprised at parts.
I suppose it makes me weird. I’m far from the person that leaves book movies sniffing my nose and saying: “It was nothing like the book. Worst. Movie. Ever.” Instead I try to appreciate (or groan at) the direction they take with the movie. When a concept jumps formats, you can shift the focus and even tell a different message altogether.
I mentioned my fondness of how this can be done well in my blog post about “Speed Racer”.
To conclude I simply ask to make your judgments on stories revolving tired concepts on the story itself , not preconceptions. I’m guilty of such things as well. When I hear teenagers and vampires in the same sentence I throw up a little, however give me a strong three points of interest and it can win me over despite being outside of my usual genre. That’s what got me to pick up “11/22/63” after all and it’s one of my favorite books.