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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.  


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.

1 comment:

  1. This was an interesting post, Justin. I found my way here by chance, but I definitely plan to visit often. Have a great day. Blessings...Mary