Unfairly Comparing Stories is Killing Your Own Future Enjoyment.



By | Posted on 16 January 2013

When we demand that everything be related to everything else we help kill the future. That sounds a bit silly and all but bear with me. Let’s take a recent, and SF, example:

A bunch of people complain that Dredd is simply The Raid. When they say this they hurt the potential viewership of Dredd, because those people have seen the Raid and don’t want to watch it again. And yet the example is completely not true. Look, if you want to say that they both take place with people being sort of trapped in a building and having to fight their way free – sure. Same movie. Except the particulars, the tone, the visuals – every single thing is different. I mean Dredd is all about open spaces inside enclosed spaces. The Raid is about the tightness of enclosed spaces. Not even close to the same movie. Also, keep in mind, Dredd was filming when The Raid was entering production so it isn’t as if they even knew of each other or could have copied one another.

theraid

It also isn’t as if the idea of “person or group trapped in hostile territory and needs to fight their way out of it” is new. Forget Die Hard let’s go to Anabasis. If you don’t know it, it is one of the seven books written by Xenophon, a Greek soldier. Anabasis details the march of ten thousand Greek soldiers from Persia, going through enemy territory and their long and arduous trek. See! Same thing as The Raid, man!

Oh, wait, no it isn’t.

Let’s take another, non-SF, example. Forgive me for it, but I have to use this one. I have been hearing all my life that West Side Story is “just Romeo and Juliet as a musical.” Except it totally isn’t. Do they both use the story of star-crossed lovers who come from warring groups? Sure. Except in Romeo and Juliet both characters die when a scheme goes wrong and they are both fooled. In West Side Story Tony dies because of such a scheme. Maria does not, and in fact, uses her grief to end the feud. Also whereas Romeo and Juliet is about the love most of all, West Side Story is about the immigrant experience in New York in the 50s and 60s. Now, to be fair, West Side Story was inspired by Romeo and Juliet – but it made a totally different story and point out of it.

westsidestory

That’s common. There are only so many “stories” out there. Seriously. Shakespeare pretty much wrote all of them. The thing you enjoy is not the deepest root of the story, it’s how it is done.

But here is how tossing comparisons off the cuff and reducing all new things to simply retakes on old things hurts the future:

You are making writers suffer. I say this as a guy who writes comics and prose outside of these columns. You are actively making it harder to pitch, harder to move forward and harder to create new stories for you. When an audience reduces everything, wrongly, to a single dense point you can’t give them a great story. Instead the focus, by the people buying the stories who are also sick of this harming their revenue, on “new” ideas.

William-Shakespeare

New ideas sound great on paper, but the truth is you get wrapped up, more often than not, in making a setting and a premise “new” instead of focusing on what story you want to tell, and suddenly, worst case, you’re stuck shoehorning story in badly.

It harms storytelling, appreciating the trappings over the story. When you dismiss things because of a gut general gloss reaction that doesn’t hold up in the slightest it helps ensure that future stories will be weaker in service of trying to make you think they’re new.

So, please, for all of us, judge a thing on its own merits, not the perceived merit of what it looks like standing next to someone else. Lose yourself in a story instead of trying to compare it to other stories, and just enjoy what you have, rather than complain how it is similar to something else (when it isn’t).


Eisner & Harvey award winning editor, writer & tired person. Co-Writer of AMELIA COLE, ARTFUL DAGGERS and ACTION CATS. Editor of Jamal Igle's MOLLY DANGER. Writer of lots of other comics, novels & essays.

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  • chaosprime

    I’m pretty much sick of all forms of half-bright “there are only so many stories”, actually. Guess what, kids? If you look at things sufficiently abstractly, everything is the same, and if you look at things sufficiently concretely, everything is different! Mind *blown*.

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