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Plots of the Living Dead

April 26th, 2010 · 2 Comments · Uncategorized

As an earlier post of mine would clearly suggest, I’ve got a real problem with authors who saddle their books with lame, over-used, on-the-nose titles. Calling a book about an ex-con trying to stay straight THE PAROLEE, for example, demonstrates about as much imagination and creativity to me as a rock. I don’t get it.

But there’s one thing an author can do that I think is even more incomprehensibly banal: Choose a plot we’ve all seen a gazillion times before.

You know the ones I mean. Rogue cop is targeted by serial killer he’s chasing. Devastated mother’s kidnapped child reappears 15 years later — maybe. Drunken P.I. is framed for murder by bogus female client. Killing machine trained by the C.I.A. gets caught in a deadly double-cross.

Please. Enough already.

I bring this up now because I just read an interview with a “bestselling” mystery-romance novelist whose latest book is about a woman married to the man of her dreams whose idyllic life is completely shattered when her husband abruptly disappears and she discovers, much to her astonishment, that…

Repeat after me, everyone:

…he wasn’t the man she thought he was.

Whoa. Someone had their thinking cap on when they came up with that one, didn’t they?

Look, I understand that there is a finite number of plots in the world to choose from; the British journalist and author Christopher Booker, in fact, claims there are only seven. But however many there are at this stage in the history of human letters — seven or seven million — it’s for damn sure there at least five we don’t ever, ever need to see again, in any form, and the lady-with-a-missing-husband-discovers-she’s-been-married-to-a-stranger has got to be one of them. Sheesh.

Assuming the author in question hasn’t been writing while under a rock for the last 25 years, she must have known how many others have trampled across her chosen path before she even started in. So my question is, Why in God’s name did she go there?

“To put her own spin on it,” some might say in her defense. “To infuse it with new life by taking it in a different and totally unique direction.”

Which I’m sure is probably true, at least in part. And she might have even succeeded on some level. But unless she turned the entire premise upside down, what she ended up with almost certainly has to be LWAMHDSBMTAS mystery-romance novel #464, and I for one think that’s about 454 too many of the damn things.

To be fair, I’m definitely in the minority here. People keep writing books based on the PLOTS OF THE LIVING DEAD because people keep reading them, apparently nowhere near as hung up on the importance of original thought as I am. But Jesus, I sure wish they’d stop. Some of these premises are so old and ripe they emit a foul stench you can smell just by reading a book’s description on Amazon. They are the book equivalent of zombies, rising from the grave again and again to dine on the brain matter of readers too dim-witted to run, lock themselves inside their homes, and read something that’s only been attempted twice before, for a change.

Where the hell is Woody Harrelson when you need him?


2 Comments so far ↓

  • Eric Beetner

    Okay, THAT was genius. And needed to be said. I hearty, “I second that!” from me. (despite feeling nervous now that everything I’ve even written has been too derivative)

  • Gar Anthony Haywood


    Everything we write is derivative. What makes me crazy are authors who willingly choose one of the ten most shopworn premises of all time as their starting off point. If a one-line description of the book you’re about to write immediately brings to mind four books and three movies, DO SOMETHING ELSE. That idea has been done to death and William F’ing Faulkner couldn’t breathe new life into it.

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