Similarities and Differences: A few thoughts for readers and writers

This is very off the cuff. I just read an article on Jack Han’s hockey newsletter in which he talked about the things that power his writing. Point three is the one that interests me most – the best way to improve hockey understanding is to observe how most star players are doing the same thing, and after you see that you start to see what they do different.

We all know something where most things are doing their business the same, right?

Pretty much all storytellers are using the same tools and the similarities grow the more they have in common. Once we’re talking people from the same cultural background writing in the same sub-genre, we start to see plenty of comparables among other storytellers.

Somewhere where I often feels readers leave meat on the bone of their enjoyment is when they struggle to get past works feeling generic. We are in a culture of seeing similarities so we coach ourselves to easily home in on them. We don’t do that with differences in quite the same way. I’m not entirely sure we can easily do so given the culture we live in and to a certain extent, suspect it’s partly a reaction to not enjoying the story to begin with. But perhaps it’s something we can say to ourselves and get more out of books.

In any case, whether we can do it or not, it’s definitely something storytellers need to watch out for. It’s why we’re told to keep current with our genre, something some writers complain about. I agree with a lot of that article, but it’s mainly aimed at a perversion of that advice – take your inspiration from where your genre is, fit into where your genre is at all costs. It’s not. It’s simply know your genre so you can know what’s similar and what’s different. Where you take your inspiration from and where you think your fit is will depend on what you think you do similarly and what you do differently to other writers.

And while I agree with the writer about works that feel like someone came up with one clever twist and then didn’t seek to differentiate themselves further, you’ve got to ask is that due to people being too current with their genre – or people simply enjoying the genre? Not every writer wants to be a revolutionary.

For those dreaming very big, perhaps advice piece number one in Jack Han’s article is a key one – understand the difference between news and not-news. Or, understand the difference between current genre trends, and longlasting story shape and human interest. What’s current is news; what lasts forever is not-news. Wise storytellers always seek to use what’s current to find a way to connect their thoughts on the longlasting stuff with their audience. But that doesn’t mean that you study the current stuff to find out what you think about the longlasting stuff (unless you really want to). Keeping up with the news doesn’t mean ignoring everything else.

And readers who can see what a writer is doing there, and therefore find the differences, may well be happier readers.

Well. Maybe. But it all makes sense, innit?

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