Reading the "Competition"
How similar stories can inspire us
1. Latest News from the Desk of Sooz
Thank you to all who came to see me in New York last Friday! I had so much fun at my first NYCC! 😍 And gosh, it was nice to see my publishing team IRL again—and meet my amazing editor in person!! (Lindsey, you’re awesome!)
If you missed me in New York or want to see me, then please come to one of my tour stops! You can find all the locations and times here!
Lastly, THE LUMINARIES IS AN INDIE NEXT LIST PICK!! I am so excited!! Thank you, thank you, booksellers, for making this dream of mine come true! I really, truly hoped The Luminaries might get chosen, but I obviously have no control beyond writing the best book I can write and hoping. 🙏
So THANK YOU for voting it onto the list. I am just beyond thrilled and truly cannot use enough exclamation points to express my excitement! 😂
2. Reading the “Competition”
I really love that there is an opportunity to ask you something. It's very exciting for me :-) Do you ever read books from the competition? Does this factor in to story creations or do you have a completely organic process? I tend to find my stories are derived from things I've read or seen, so I'm curious if this affects your process somewhat :-)
This is such an interesting question, Lisa, because it actually hits on two different ideas.
Reading books that “compete” with my own.
Deriving story from other stories.
Let’s tackle #2 first: it is impossible not to be inspired by the stories we consume. Everything that we understand about story is taken from the media that we read, watch, play, etc. And all of those forms of media were built from what came before them.
Example: why do elves in the Dragon Age games have pointed ears? The same reason they do in a LOT of modern fantasy: because Tolkien popularized elves with pointed ears. (And he wasn’t necessarily the first; he just made it popular in the fantasy that came after!)
Sometimes, I personally can clearly point to inspiration points. The Carawen Monastery, for example, was inspired by James Gurney’s illustration of The Tentpole in the Sky in Dinotopia.
Aedan’s status as a monk was totally inspired by the monk Joscelin in Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart, while his relationship with Iseult is my response to the Zutara ship that never sailed (😭).
As for why I wanted a swashbuckling vibe in Truthwitch? Look no further than my deep, undying love for Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders series.
Oh yeah, and the bantering friendship between Safi and Iseult? Totally inspired by Gus and Shawn from Psych.
Of course, I can’t always trace every aspect of my books to their inspirational sources. NO WAY. But I do know that everything I write had to come from somewhere—and those “somewheres” are the books I’ve read and shows I’ve loved and games I’ve played.
Basically, it is impossible to separate what we write from what came before. As the saying goes: There are no new stories, only new ways of telling them.
This is why, whenever someone is stressing that their novel sounds so much like something that just came out or is about to come out, I say, “Shhh, shhh. All is well. You could take the exact same prompt I have and come back with something completely unique and different.”
And it’s true! Right after I sold Something Strange & Deadly to HarperTeen, a book came out you might have heard of: Clockwork Angel. On the surface, our books are terrifyingly similar! Cassandra Clare has a girl who joins the Shadowhunters in 1876 to rescue her missing brother in a world of paranormal creatures and magic…
I have a girl who joins the Spirit-Hunters in 1876 to rescue her brother from a necromantic world of magic…
VERY SIMILAR, HUH?
But I bought Clockwork Angel as soon as it came out, read it, and my fear that I might be accused of “copying Clare!” evaporated immediately. Our books are so vastly different. Not just in the actual execution of broad plot points, but tonally too. Eleanor is not like Tessa; the Spirit-Hunters are not like the Shadowhunters.
But clearly Clare and I were on a similar wavelength when we wrote our respective books! But ultimately, we created very different stories from the same massive, amorphous galaxy of source material we all pull from.
Now, to answer the first part of your question: do I read the competition?
Partly because I don’t view my fellow authors as competition. A rising tide lifts all ships, right? 😉 If a reader enjoyed Clockwork Angel, that only helps me! Maybe they’ll pick up Something Strange & Deadly next!
That said, I do NOT read books in my genre—at least not when I’m drafting. Primarily, this is an ego thing. I wig myself out reading great writers and their great prose.
I can never write this well!! UNGH, they are so good and I am so bad 😭
Yeah, I have a fragile ego and a very, very nasty inner editor. So to avoid feeling like a failure while I’m wrangling a book to life, I typically avoid reading anything that would be in the same genre.
Instead, I almost always read non-fiction. I find it’s a great source for ideas—weird, unexpected ideas I wouldn’t otherwise come across. Like in the second Luminaries book, I have a subplot about PTSD that is both rooted in my own personal experiences with it as well as rooted in something I read in a book called Tribe by Sebastian Junger.
(This is also why I listen to a lot of NPR when I’m drafting. I love shows like Here and Now or All Things Considered because I never know what random subject they’ll cover or how it might feed my stories!)
Of course, if you enjoy reading books in the genre you’re drafting, then do! There is no right or wrong way to do this. Some people find it motivating to read the books they want to one day join on the shelf! Plus, you can learn a lot by reading the books your target readers enjoy.
I hope that answers your question(s), Lisa, and thank you so much for asking!
💚 - Sooz