The Writer Games

In front of a live audience, write until you drop dead. The last one writing gets a book deal.

What do you think?

Have you read The Hunger Games? I don’t want to link to it lest I end up with too many people over here. Seriously.

I haven’t read it or seen the film. I’ve decided to read the books, but doubt I’ll see the movie. The idea of the story is depressing enough without adding visuals.

Anyway, I don’t know why I care, but there is this argument going around the Internet that I find annoying. A friend of mine recently stated that he wasn’t going to see The Hunger Games because it was a copy of Battle Royale. Copied? Was it? Well, I had to know more about that. We (as in we writers) try so hard to be original, it is maddening to see someone copy and end up with a best seller.

So I search for reviews, interviews, and whatever else. But after reading several pieces about the stories, I have to say I don’t believe Suzanne Collins copied the Japanese movie. If you disagree, please keep insults to yourself.

But I find I’m really, really irritated about this whole brouhaha over nothing.

I’ve seen comments that go something like this, “I haven’t read The Hunger Games, but I’ve heard it’s a rip off of Battle Royale, so I’m not going to.” Yes, letting hearsay form your opinions is always a good idea.

And this, “Battle Royale came out ten years ago–before The Hunger Games.” Okay. Valid observation. But Collins says she never heard of Battle Royale. Is she lying? One friend said, “People will say anything for fame and money.” Sure. But Collins dislikes media attention and there’s nothing about her lifestyle to indicate she’s all about the money. And not to point out the obvious, but if you’re all about money, writing a YA novel may not be the best choice. And I don’t call people liars without proof.

And until the other day I hadn’t even heard of Battle Royale. Well, it’s Japanese and had a limited release here in the States. I’m not sure why people assume Collins has heard of it. It’s not exactly like she’s said she didn’t know they’d made a movie of Titanic.

I also fail to see what is so amazingly unique about Battle Royale that someone else couldn’t come up with a similar idea all on her own. Am I to believe that in the whole of the world and history, only one person can come up with the idea of young people killing each other for sport? Anyone with a passing knowledge of Greek myth, Lord of the Flies, and reality TV would have a chance of imagining just such a plot. People come up with similar story ideas every single day. Anyone who writes should know this. You write something, and then–presto!–you come across something that is basically your idea. Was it stolen? No. I guess, it’s unfortunate Joseph Campbell isn’t around to ask about myth and collective storytelling.

And finally, am I to agree that only one version of any story can exist? If that is the case, then a lot of people better put down their pens. Battle Royale has a male lead (from what I’ve read about the plot). It is Japanese. So that’s it? No one else can tell their perspective on such a story? You know what, Romeo and Juliet has been written, so please, no more star-crossed romances. What else. Oh, no more stories aliens invading earth. No more assassination stories. No more war stories. No more man vs nature stories. Sorry. Been done. We should have a Only-One Rule. That would save us all a lot of trouble.

Have you ever known anyone who loves a particular band until that bands gets popular. Suddenly they don’t like that band anymore. They accuse the band of selling out. Or they look down at those Johnny-come-latelies as not real fans. Some smug nonsense in that. I hear a similar tone in some comments–they’re so cool as to know Battle Royale before the rabble, anything else pales in comparison. I’ve seen a few comments by people who love BR and are angry that only is it getting more distribution here in the States. Can they be pleased that THG has given their film some attention? No.

You could also read this post about the whole kerfuffle. I found it level-headed.

I’ve been trying to understand why this issue bothers me so much when I’ve no vested interest in either. Maybe I’m worried (hopeful!) it could be me. Maybe the novel sitting in my hard drive has already been done and I don’t know it. I’d like not to be raked across coals by people who don’t know anything about my work or me.

What sort of literary ruckus do you care about?

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10 responses to “The Writer Games

  1. I never heard of Battle Royale. They say there are really no new ideas, just new spin on old ideas. I agree with that. Each writer gives the idea their own spin. I am jealous as heck at Suzanne’s success, I’ll admit. Who doesn’t want that sort of blockbuster? But I read the trilogy, way before the movie. It was pretty good, though I did not like how she finished. I’ll probably see the movie eventually.

    • I agree. Just a new spin on old ideas. And I’m jealous too. But I think jealousy is okay if you admit it and move on.

      And that’s what I mean–how many of us have actually heard of Battle Royale? Not to invalidate it. Many people love it and it’s worth their love (though sounds way too violent for me), but fans can be like overprotective parents. I find it maddening.

  2. Thanks for linking to my post. The comparisons between the two novels/films go even deeper than that. The author of Battle Royale regularly admits to being inspired by Stephen King’s The Running Man. King, in turn, admits to being influenced by Shirley Jacksons’ The Lottery. Shirley Jackson was influenced by ancient rites of summer, which is directly connected to the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. This isn’t a matter of who stole from who. It’s a matter of how so many different artists can use the same framework for entirely different reasons.

    • Oh, wow! Thanks for coming by and saying something. Yes, I really liked your post and I learned a lot about both stories.

      Also, thanks for telling me about Battle Royale’s sources of inspiration. I wanted to know them (assuming he must have had some) but failed to find them.

      And I completely agree about using similar frameworks for different reasons. Art would stop otherwise.

  3. Every now and then I drop in at the Quora site to see what’s being talked about. In case you don’t know it, it’s a sort of open question-and-answer site. The questions tend not to be factual but, well, qualitative; the answerers provide their real names, and usually explain their credientials for answering. This makes the give-and-take much more high-quality than other Q&A sites.

    Anyway, this week I read an exchange there about a staggeringly stupid question (I’m sorry; there ARE some stupid questions): “Why do writers think they should get paid to write?” (It goes on: “Especially when there are so many writers out there that consistently write high quality and free content. Isn’t writing an art?”)

    I don’t think most — let alone all — readers should have taken courses in literary interpretation, or in creative writing, in order to have valid opinions about books and stories and poetry and so on. I don’t think everyone needs to know what your aside about Joseph Campbell means.

    But man, there are some people out there who you’ve gotta wonder about…

    This touches on your post a few days ago, about your recent irritability. What might be behind it: “just” the general cultural elevation of cluelessness to an art form. Because, y’know, if you want to comment on a serious topic, it’s better if you don’t just spout the obvious (that maybe something is genuinely good). It’s better, and certainly cooler, to protest in ignorance.

    Not sure what you mean by a literary kerfuffle worth “caring about.” But I will say that a lot of the argument and disagreement about self- vs. traditional publishing is very interesting to me, even when I disagree with one view or the other: because it’s really not hard to find smart people at both ends of the spectrum (as well as in the middle ground, of course). Does that count? 🙂

    • I didn’t know about Quora, so that is interesting.

      And I agree: there are stupid questions. My all time favorite is, “What time is the three o’clock parade?”

      What did I mean by literary kerfuffle worth caring about? Hmm. Well, mostly I was trying to find a way to answer the possible question someone might ask me, “Why do you care what someone else thinks about The Hunger Games?” I guess I tend to feel that I have to justify my interest in something. And I think the self- vs. traditional kerfuffle counts. 🙂

      • Still thinking about all this, I remembered an analogy I read someplace many years ago.

        There’s a common logical fallacy called the Post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy. The Latin literally translates as After this, therefore because of this — which pretty much sums up the problem it’s describing: people who aren’t thinking clearly often assume that if they see one thing, and then later (looking in the same direction, so to speak) see something else, then Something B must have been caused by Something A.

        The analogy I remembered said that this is like looking at a wooden fence from which one plank has been removed. You see a dog walk by, its head and forepaws framed neatly in the opening. A moment later you look at the fence again and you see a dog’s back paws and tail. And you think, Aha! The dog’s backside results from its head!

        Battle Royale and Hunger Games: just two sections of the same creature.

  4. Ideas can’t be copyrighted, and there are no new stories under the sun, so I suppose there’s bound to be syncronicity between writers. Usually only when a story gets a lot of exposure (in this case The Hunger Games) does anyone care about it, so I guess it means you’ve made it to the big time if you have lawsuits pending.

    I’m not going to see the movie either. Starving kids killing each other so they can eat. No thanks.

    • Right. There are no new ideas under the sun. I’m always bothered by folks who think that because they fell in love with an idea with one writer, no other writer is allowed to also have that idea.

      I don’t want to see the film because I don’t want the visuals, but I am curious about the books. I would say it is because it is popular, but Twilight is popular and I’m not going to read those. I want to read it because it is popular AND it has a strong female lead who isn’t looking for love. Not enough of those stories.

  5. JES, yes, exactly that.

    What drove me crazy was that the people I read about this debate had never read The Hunger Games and knew nothing about the author. Get up up and look over the fence!

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