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Sunday, April 29, 2012

On Story Similarities & Differences


You've heard of The Hunger Games by now.  It was the top-performing movie in America for a while, and has made hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide.  Before it was a movie, it was an international bestseller.  If you haven't heard of it, well then you're probably with those same people I mentioned in my last post who haven't heard of e-books.  

Anyway.

The Hunger Games is a pretty damn good book (the sequels I didn't care for as much, but the first one is very solid).  However, some people are saying it's copying something else.  That Suzanne Collins ripped off another story.  The original in question is the Japanese book, Battle Royale.  It also went on to become a film, and a manga (Japanese comic book).  So is that true?  Did Ms. Collins rip off a somewhat obscure piece of Japanese literature and cheat here way to author superstardom?

Uh, no.

Here is what BR  and HG have in common:

In the future, a dystopian government forces its youth to compete in a massive death match while filming it as reality TV.

Anything beyond that is different.  The motivations of the characters, the world, the history, how the story feels, it's all very, very different.  Battle Royale is a much more brutal, unforgiving, cruel story.  Hunger Games is a lot less grim.  Katniss Everdeen is absolutely nothing like Shuya Nanahara.   Despite Battle Royale being the more vicious of the two books, Katniss is a much more jaded, calculating protagonist.  Shuya is borderline idiotic with how naive he can get.  

But maybe you're thinking the basic idea is still too close for comfort.  Well, the books are very close in their main idea of kids killing kids for TV.  No argument there.  So let's look at some other, similar ideas that are pulling double duty.

In the future, a utopian society exists, but its citizens must take pills that curb their emotions and desires, or be killed by the ruling government.

That's from the classic novel The Giver, and the action movie Equilibrium with Christian Bale.  The former mainly focuses on the growing relationship between a boy and an old man and the power of memory, while the latter is about a guy with gun kung-fu taking down the government with bullets and ninja swords.

Have another:

A social outcast and misfit becomes so upset by the growing crime in his neighborhood, that he becomes a super hero and takes down the mafia.

The films Blankman and Kick-Ass have that as their driving idea.  The former is a goofball comedy while the latter is a deconstruction of the genre that gets kinda dark.

One more.  Can you do one more?  Sure you can. 

Several strangers fall asleep, then wake up together to find that the world around them has drastically changed.  They must contend with each other, some freaky monsters, and time itself, or they'll all die.

And that gem of an idea is from The Langoliers, a novella and mini-series by Stephen King, and King of Thorn, a manga and animated film.  The first one is King's usual horror story style, while the second features quite a bit more action and features more monsters.

This is, by no means, encouragement to go rip off a popular idea.  But don't hamstring yourself because something similar exists, or freak out because you get a little deja vu when reading a new book.  There are no new ideas under the sun, but that doesn't mean you can't take an old idea and make it like new with your own unique perspective, characters, viewpoints, and style.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

On E-Publishing & the Rise of the Indie Author

If you have not heard about e-publishing, you're likely in a third-world country in a cave, or are so willfully ignorant that you qualify as a vegetable or a tea-partier.  Things like the Amazon Kindle (pictured above) and the Barnes & Noble nook are e-readers: devices that let you download digital copies of books.  My Kindle has something like 500 books on it, and I love the thing.  Buying e-books is significantly cheaper because you're just buying information, not a hardcover book with hundreds of pages and so on.  

An unexpected side effect of this is that self-publishing has now become a real, viable option for independent writers.  Self publishing has existed for years (sometimes also known as vanity publishing) but the costs of publishing your own physical books and distributing them was so incredibly prohibitive that hardly anybody did it, and those who did almost never saw any substantial profit.  

But now, that's all changed.  the digital marketplace and the rise of the e-book has paved the way for the indie scene.  This is actually very similar to the rise of other digital indie media, like games and films.  Thanks to digital distribution services like Steam and the X-Box Live marketplace, small video game studios are producing cheap, fun games and selling them online.  Small film companies and studios are releasing webseries via YouTube and other streaming sites.   So it was only natural that books got in on the action as well.

So what does this mean?  Well, it means that if you're like me and sick to death of being rejected by literary agents, you can just publish your own damn book(s) and strike out on your own.  The number of indie books has exploded in the past year to absurd numbers, flooding the market with reams of crap as well as some genuinely good pieces.  Some indie authors have sold millions of e-books and gone on to sign contracts with traditional publishing houses.  That's the miniscule exception to the overwhelming rule of selling almost nothing, however.

Indie publishing is finally starting to catch on with the general public, due to even lower prices (99 cents being the lowest, although sometimes authors will have promotion days where they temporarily mark their books as free), and the fact that the publishing industry as a whole is becoming more and more creatively bankrupt.  

Even if you're not a writer, it's still incredibly interesting to watch the paradigm start to shift.  Literary agents are now also becoming e-publishing consultants.  The Big 6 publishing houses have people whose job it is to just patrol and monitor up-and-coming indie authors who they can then sign into their stables.  And, god bless 'em, there are some indie authors who have given the finger to traditional publishing and continue to pave their own way.

I'm not 100% against traditional publishing.  I'd still like to have a publisher give me money to write.  that would be cool.  But being an indie author isn't such a bad gig either.  It's actually pretty cool, since you have more creative control and you set your own publication dates.  They both have things to offer, but indie publishing keeps growing at a phenomenal rate.

Definitely something to keep an eye on.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Back in Korea Again


After a quick trip back to the States to visit family, I'm back in Korea again, though this time at a University.  I have to say that teaching at a University is about a bazillion times better than at a hagwon, for a few key features:

1) Universities will usually give you on-campus housing which means a couple things.  First, you won't have far to walk to work, unlike a hagwon that might stick you on the far end of the city.  Second, as the building will be on-campus, the staff wants it to look nice so their campus doesn't appear run-down, so it'll be in pretty good shape.  Unlike my old hagwon that had me living in squallor in the middle of the dirtiest part of the city.

2) Higher pay.  Universities pay more.  Simple, end of story.

3) Less work time and less busy work time.  My university has me working 18-20 hours a week, and all of that is actual work, not just sitting around wasting time.  The hagwon had me working 35-40 hours a week, of which a significant chunk would just be sitting at my desk doing nonsense BS work like reviewing text books or whatever.  

4) Vacation.  Most universities will give you at least a few weeks of vacation a year.  Mine gives me 2 months.  The hagwon gave me ten days, spread out over the course of a year (the longest chunk of time I had off was three days).

5) Prestige.  Working at a University just looks good on a CV.  Working at a hagwon looks all right.

So, how does one get a University job in Korea?  Well you don't need a Ph.D. or a Master's, though those would certainly help.  All University jobs I've seen (including the one I landed) require at least 3 things:

1) Minimum of 2 years teaching experience.

2) Strong background in English (either a college degree in English or related field, or a job that involved heavy use of proper English, like an Editor, writer, something similar)

3) Previous experience in Korea.  So yeah, you probably can't have this be your first job in Korea, as the folks at Universities like to know their employees can stay in this country for a year and not quit mid-contract.

Somebody described working in Korea like joining a frat: the first year you're low man (or woman) on the totem pole, and you're gonna get stuck with the crappy stuff.  But after that first year, you can do all the cool stuff.  Which is pretty accurate.

Overall, I'd say it's pretty sweet.  My busiest day involves working four hours and ten minutes.  My shortest day, I work one hour and forty minutes.  I get the whole month of December off, and during the summer, there's at least a couple weeks where I only work fifty minutes a day.

So I very muich recommend getting a Uni job in Korea if you can.