The Simpsons Did It
I worried a little bit about having Grandpa Smedry and the other Free Kingdomers misunderstand American culture so much. They don’t quite get it. This is a fun plotting element, and it gives explanation for some of Alcatraz’s past (you’ll get this later) but it’s also worrying because it’s similar to something that was done in Harry Potter. (The Weasley father tries to do things like Muggles, but doesn’t ever quite get it right.)
I almost cut this element from the book because of the similarity. Those of you who know me and my work probably already understand how much of a “Don’t do what I’ve seen done” reaction I have. If another author has done it, and I’m not parodying it or changing it enough to be unrecognizable, then I don’t want to put it in my books. Even if I knew nothing of the other author and their work.
In this case, I didn’t cut it. I do happen to like Harry Potter, and have read all of the books, and so I was even more tempted to edit this out. However, in contemplating it, a certain episode of South Park came to mind. In the episode, one of the characters is constantly crying out “Simpsons did it!” to plot elements or ideas that the characters tried.
The point in the episode was that the characters kept getting frustrated because all of their great ideas are things that the show The Simpsons had already done in one of their episodes. I can see the writers of South Park and their frustration in this episode, and see it as a reaction to times when people emailed them and posted on forums, chastising them for copying The Simpsons. The problem is, as the show points out, The Simpsons has pretty much done everything. The writers couldn’t afford to undermine their own show by trying to cut out every little thing they thought of that happened to be similar to something in another show.
Harry Potter dominates the market right now. And the thing is, a lot of the things in Harry Potter weren’t invented first by Rowling. They’re staples of the genre, or ideas that have been done other times by other books. Rowling does them very well. However, if you try to cut out anything from your books that might hint at being similar to Harry Potter, you’re going to have a frustrating time.
Yes, we need to innovate. Yes, I prefer books that are original. However, I’m already writing a book about a cult of evil librarians that rule the world and a boy with the magical power to break things. Neither are ideas I’ve ever seen before. I didn’t feel I needed to expunge everything that might reference another work. If I did, I worry that my novels would be so original that they’re inaccessible.
Just my thoughts on the matter. Wow, that turned into an essay. I didn’t mean it to be one–it was more for my own benefit than for yours. But that’s what you have to deal with in these annotations. I’m even more free than I am in my books to write whatever the heck I want.