Tuesday, October 26, 2010

More of the Same but Different

by Nancy

Many published authors have told me, "when you sell, be prepared to write more of the same but different." The first time I heard this, it sounded really, seriously weird to me. "The same but different?" Isn't that a contradiction in terms?

Well, no. Not when I sat down and thought about it. That's what I look for as a reader--something that will give me the SAME buzz but with a DIFFERENT plot. I've found that I get this from reading series. Or trilogies.

I suppose I could blame the late J. R. R. Tolkien for my tendency to read trilogies and connected plots. His massive trilogy, that Lair favorite The Lord of the Rings, continued its story over many, many pages. It was more and more and more of the same--same characters, same Middle Earth setting--though in different areas--same quest, to destroy the ring of power. But the characters faced different, escalating problems as the story progressed. That's the first trilogy I remember reading, but I cut my teeth on series books.

I have only vague memories of Dick, Jane, and Sally, but I loved the Bobbsey Twins, two sets of fraternal twins who went around solving mysteries. The Bobbseys never aged, and their lives never changed.

The same went for Nancy Drew, whom I also loved. Nancy and her "chums," the very feminine and pretty Bess and tomboyish George (short for Georgina or some such). Nancy did eventually acquire a boyfriend, Ned, but the relationship was the same from one book to the next. Nancy started around 1930 and drove a roadster. She went through an updating in the 1950s or 1960s, and the roadster became, I think, a convertible. She had another updating in the 1980s or 1990s, but the cast of characters and the basic structure of her life didn't change. Only the mysteries did.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson shared "rooms" at 221B Baker Street through several adventures. Watson's marriage changed their living arrangement (for which Mrs. Watson was undoubtedly grateful), but they continued to solve crimes in much the same way.

The same went for series television. Captain Kirk sailed where no man had gone before with the same crew in the same ship week after week. Ensign Chekov arrived at some point, but that was the main change to the crew. But the space sector and the specific problem changed.

Then trilogies and series with continuing plots became popular, especially in science fiction and fantasy. Romance started doing series in the form of linked books. More of the same--same characters but with different hero/heroine combinations and different problems. Battlestar Galactica, Heroes, and Lost did evolving storylines, kind of like soap operas but with fewer recaps and less sex.

Now I've come to prefer series in which characters evolve. That's one of the reasons I like the In Death books so much. Eve Dallas grows in every book, and her relationship with Roarke evolves, not always smoothly. They clash over the same issue--where the line of what's right or wrong is--but the cause of the clash is always different. It's more of the same but different.

And just by the way, Tuesday of next week--one week from today--is the launch of Indulgence in Death, the latest Eve Dallas adventure.

Jessica Andersen's Nightkeepers place different characters front and center in each book, but their problems are usually seeded in earlier books, opening the way. Jessica will be back next Wednesday to give us a peek at the next book, Blood Spells, which resolves Patience and Brandt's ongoing issues.

Sabrina Jeffries' current series, The Hellions of Halstead Hall, puts a different sibling in the featured couple of each book, but the rest of the family is still around, and we're getting hints of pairings to come.

Claudia Dain's wonderful Courtesan series also features connected characters. Daring a Duke, the most recent book, features several couples from earlier books in addition to the courtesan, Sophia Dalby, herself, with enticing peeks at Sophia's past.

In Julie Kenner's series about Kate Connor, Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom, Kate's marriage changes as she becomes involved in demon hunting again and her husband eventually learns of it.

What about you? Do you like your books, movies or TV shows to be "more of the same but different?" Or do you prefer them as different as possible? Why did you choose what you did? What's your favorite series?


flchen1 said...

Honestly, it depends on my mood. I do love a certain kind of story or themes, but I don't necessarily like them to all end up sounding the same. I guess it's all in the journey--different authors can make the same plot play out so differently, and I love reading each variation. So, um... both? I want it all? Maybe that's why my TBR could crush me ;)

Kim in Hawaii said...

The Lair is an example of "more of the same but different". Always the Aussies - but different ones -who claim the Golden Roster!

I watched the modern day Sherlock Holmes last night on PBS Hawaii. It is the same Sherlock neurosis, sleuthing, and distain, but a different century, technology, and enemy. I'm still digesting if I like it or not.

Daz said...

I'm a sucker for a series but there are certain themes that I love and will revisit over and over again. Your more of the same is so true.

I'm also a sucker for reading a series from beginning to latest book. Nothing irks me more than to find out I've accidentally started a series in the middle.

And I'm a collector (or would that be hoarder?), I love collecting a series. It also irks me if I start a series and don't have the complete set. That said, I've given up on the Anita Blake series and have stopped reading and collecting them because there was some "more of the same and different" going on but I didn't like the direction of the different.

Currently reading a book which I very sincerely hope does not become a series because it would just be one long depressing road to travel on and I think I'm going to give this author a miss unless there's more "different" and better different and less of "the same".

Kim, I think the reason the Aussies get the rooster more frequently has to do with the time zone and when the blogs are posted, usually between 2pm and 5pm, which in my opinion is very civilised. :-)

Kim in Hawaii said...

Daz, your explanation is logical but I think it is a conspiracy! I believe those Aussies are lurring the Golden Roster and Cabana Boys with Tim Tams!

But at least I have Alex O'Laughlin ... who is just about to come on the tellie ... it's time for Hawaii Five-O!

Sheree said...

When I like a book, then I want it to be part of the series - the "more of the same but different" philosophy. The sequels are like visiting the characters after their HEA, checking in with friends during a school reunion, for example. I'm okay with reading stand alone ones, too. I think most of Teresa Medeiros' books are stand alones (or not more than two connected books at a time).

I do want the characters to evolve. That would give me a reason to read the series. For instance, not a whole lot goes on in any of Alexander McCall Smith's Sunday Philosophy Club/Isabel Dalhousie series; I had to wait until book 3 for something to happen (then it became an older woman/younger man trope!). And now Isabel has Charlie, her son with Jamie, the bassoonist (and ex-boyfriend of Isabel's niece Cat). I'm glad I stuck it out with the series to see Isabel grow as a character, even if I don't particularly like the use of a baby to foster personal growth (even if it is the case in real life).

Helen said...

Well done Fedora have fun with him

Very interesting post I actually love books that are part of a series but not necessarily the same couple for instance one of my all time favourite series is Julia Quinn's Bridgertons I love the same but different as in heros and heroines and plots but with the family in each of the books and other series which I love is Stephanie Laurens Cynsters same but different and of course there is Nalini Singh's Psy Changeling series and I am reading Christie's Scandal of The Season and loving it and this series is about 5 friends

I used to watch the early Star Treks and loved them but I have never read Lord of the Rings or the In Death books either for some reason they just don't appeal to me.

I think for me the same but different appeals

Have Fun

PinkPeony said...

Hey Nancy!

I like books in a series partly because I enjoy reading about the previous couple in the last book. If I didn't enjoy reading a book that's part of a series or connected to another book, I won't read the rest of them.

I like character driven stories. If the plot/setting is the same, that's fine as along as the character is somewhat different from the previous book. Series with siblings are interesting because I like to see how the author can create a character who's differnt from his/her sibling while giving them some similiar traits and background.

Congrats, Fedora!

hrdwrkdmom aka Dianna said...

I lean toward the series as well. I like the continuation of the people in the stories but like the different situations they find themselves in.

I cut my teeth on Eight Cousins-Rose in Bloom, and Little Women-Jo's Boys. Much later came my first trilogy which was The Sister's Island Trilogy by Nora Roberts, I read the last one first and quickly became obsessed with reading in order. You couldn't stop me after that.

I still read stand alones of course but I always have that sense of wanting more.

Gillian Layne said...

I absolutely love series. Elizabeth Peter's Amelia Peabody stories set in Egypt are my favorites, followed closely by the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series.

Big Bang Theory is my favorite TV series. I have high hopes for a brand new series on Cartoon network, of all places. It's called Tower Prep, and is not a cartoon, but a real show about a set of brilliant or paranormally-gifted teens who are all trapped in a school with no idea of where they are or why someone is wanting to develop their potential. It's on tonight at 7 central time.

Dianna Love said...

Nancy -

You bring up a great point about wanting "more of the same." I love series and will read until new releases start to feel stale. I enjoy books and television shows that return to a familiar world as long as the characters grow and evolve, and the plots have surprises that are not contrived.

I may be the only person who hasn't seen the new Hawaii Five-O and I really want to see that one. But we tend to rent the shows on dvd and watch an entire season in one week. So I'll have to patient for a while.

Nancy said...

Fedora, congrats on the bird!

I know what you mean about the TBR pile being huge. It is the same journey in romance, but I don't like to feel as if I'm reading the same book again.

Cassondra said...


What is that bright light coming through the window?

Okay...okay...lemme get coffee and I'll be back to actually read the post....

Nancy said...

Kim, I heard about the new Sherlock Holmes but didn't see it. I'm not sure what I think, based on what I heard, but I think it'll be interesting.

Anna Sugden said...

Great post, Nancy - and a little spooky because I'm in the midst of a Jessica Andersen read-fest and marvelling at how she's managed to do exactly what you talk about - the same but different, all progressing the overall story towards an final goal! The Final Prophecy series is masterful!

Like you, I'm a fan of series. I enjoy linked books or books which show characters from a previous story, but have a deeper connection to books which are part of one bigger story. Nora/JD Robb is another master at that - Love JD Robb. I read the Blood Brothers trilogy on your recommendation and thought that was great too. The Three Sisters is another of my favourites as is The Key series.

I'm excited to read Maggie Shayne's latest RS series - loved her first three. And I'm a big fan of Tess Gerritsen and Lisa Gardner, as everyone knows, because I love how their central characters develop over the series. It's also why I loved Lorraine Heath's fabulous series about Dodger and his pals!

That said, I've also read some series in which at least one book was too similar to the others and was very disappointed. I felt all the way through those books that I'd already read them - not good.

Oh, and like Daz and Dianna - can't stand reading a book only to find it's in the middle of a series! *g*

Christie Kelley said...

I'm still trying to put a coherent string of words together. I need more coffee.

I do like more of the same but a little different. I guess for me, when I open a book from a known author I have certain expectations. If an author who I know writes darker historicals suddenly writes a lighter, funny historical I may feel wronged.

Nancy said...

Daz, I like to read in order, too. Bookstores shelve in alpha-by-title order, not chronological, and I'll stand there pulling books out and looking at copyright dates until I figure it out.

The comic book geek in me is also a completist--I want the whole set. Of course, if I had a set of, say, Action Comics, starting with #1 and the debut of Superman, I could pay the boy's college tuition with boatloads left over, but that's never going to happen.

Nancy said...

Kim, re: Alex O'Loughlin--when you track him down, be sure to post pictures!

jo robertson said...

Grand topic, Nancy. You've mentioned some of my favorite series. Ironically, I like my series in the non-romance category, usually (with the exception of the inimitable IN DEATH series, which isn't really romance, but is, sort of LOL.)

Speaking of Sherlock Holmes, BBC America aired a new series last night with a younger, hipper, 21st century Holmes and Watson. It was wonderful, funny, clever, and a delight to watch. Hope everyone can see it with OnDemand.

Nancy said...

Sheree, I love finding that I book I enjoy is part of a series. Usually, the rest of the series holds up, and then I'm happy. Every once in a while, it doesn't, and then it's a disappointment.

The Amelia Peabody books also had the characters evolving and having a family, though I have to say I was not a huge fan of the kid.

gamistress66 said...

I enjoy series (the "linked" variety) but want a different h/h with their own hea at the end of the book. They can be linked by a background story that moves through the series (as w/ Jeffries Hellions & the mystery developing re the parents death or E Hoyt's 4 soldiers) & hints to future couples is fun (prolongs the dance ;) so to speak). The thing that's nice with series is that it gives you a chance to get to know the characters better and see them grow and their continued hea.

I enjoy stand alone books as well, the problem is great writers (such as banditas) that write not only wonderful main char but also interesting supporting char that make you want to know them bettter and see them find their hea ending as well.

Cassondra said...

Kim in Hawaii:

Daz, your explanation is logical but I think it is a conspiracy! I believe those Aussies are luring the Golden Roster and Cabana Boys with Tim Tams!

Oooooo, Kim....you may have something there! I knew there was something slightly nefarious about those Aussies!


Nancy said...

Helen, I love those old Star Treks. I've shown them in my classes, but the students have trouble getting past the clunky special effects. Those effects were state of the art for their day, of course, but not so much now.

You read a lot of series. There's such a variety out there now.

Nancy said...

PinkPeony, I also like seeing couples from prior books enjoying their HEA. I also tend not to pick up the rest of a series if I don't like the first book I read. Although the couple of times I've made an exception to that, I've been glad.

Nancy said...

Dianna, I loved Eight Cousins and A Rose in Bloom. A friend of ours has studied Alcott, and he found me a nice, old (not first edition but old) copy of A Rose in Bloom on one of his trips to New England.

I also enjoyed the Sisters Island trilogy. Jeanne recommended it to me, and the cashier told me when I bought the first one that it was her very favorite.

I've enjoyed Nora's trilogies, and I admire the way she does a complete romance in each book but has a bigger arc that spans the three. Her Sign of Seven is one of my favorites. It's very dark, but I really loved it.

Nancy said...

Hi, Gillian. I enjoyed the Amelia Peabody books, too. I hear Ramses mellowed in the later books.

Lots of people I know really like Big Bang Theory. I need to check out that show.

Nancy said...

Dianna, I haven't seen Hawaii Five-O either because it's opposite Castle, and we don't DVR. We're semi-inept that way. Alex O'Loughlin was on a vampire show, Moonlight, which ran daily for a while on what was then the SciFi network. He's a serious cutie.

I have Blood Trinity, the first book of your new Belador series. I can't wait to read it!

Nancy said...

Cassondra, I see you've had your coffee and talked to Kim. I sympathize. Not a morning lover, here, and the dh is one of those people who become functional about the same time as the sun.

Nancy said...

Anna, glad you liked the Sign of Seven. Gage is one of the best heroes I've ever read.

I'm with you in not liking to read series that seem to be stuck in the mud. I read a mystery series where one of the detectives was quietly in love with a neighbor, and book after book after book went by, with the only impediment to a relationship, apparently, his failure to speak up. I got tired of that.

If you like the In Death books, have you read the excerpt of Indulgence on the J.D. Robb website? Downloads as a .pdf, and it's very funny.

Nancy said...

Jo, I'm teaching Naked in Death in my class on American SF. A couple of the guys, I think, have hives when it comes to romance, so we'll see what they say. I agree with you that it's not romance, but it may be too romance-y for them. We'll see.

Nancy said...

Gamistress wrote: I enjoy stand alone books as well, the problem is great writers (such as banditas) that write not only wonderful main char but also interesting supporting char that make you want to know them bettter and see them find their hea ending as well.

The pubbed banditas do have fabulous books, don't they?

I like continuing couples, but I also like new couples starring in each one. I'll go with any good story, but I do have a fondness for linked books.

Nancy said...

Anna S.--Forgot to comment on your reading the Nightkeepers. Everybody knows I love that series. It's such a complex world but, at the same time, so easy to drop into.

There is an excerpt from Blood Spells on Jessica's website, www.jessicanandersen.com, and it looks great!

Nancy said...

Gamistress, I have the new Elizabeth Hoyt here and am looking forward to it. Forgot to mention that. :-)

Minna said...

I've heard that something did change in Nancy Drew books: Nancy and Ned broke up!

I do like some series where the characters don't change, but I do prefer series like the in Death series where the characters evolve. And now I've started to read inspector Lynley series by Elizabeth George. I'm actaully watching it as tv series by the BBC, too. Strangely enough, so far I've liked both -more or less (Lynley and Barbara Havers would so obviously belong together), even though the series and the books are like 2 parallel worlds. usually, if I like the tv series or movie, I don't like the books (Bones) or vice versa (tv movies based on Nora Roberts's books).

Back to the Future Tribute -- Back In Time

Nancy said...

Minna, Nancy and Ned broke up?! Ack!

Of course, Superman and Lois did--briefly--so why not Ned and Nancy?

I seldom see a TV or movie adaptation I like as much as the book. I did like 84 Charing Cross Road in both book and film format, and To Kill A Mockingbird is my favorite book and y favorite movie.

I agree that the Inspector Lynley mysteries on TV aren't much like the books.

Minna said...

When there's a tv series I like as much or more than the books, it's most likely by the BBC. Now those guys know what they are doing! I've certainly liked series like Wycliffe and Midsommer Murders.

As different as Inspector Lynley mysteries on tv are from the books, they still aren't as different as the tv series Bones is from the books by Kathy Reichs. There are still some similarities, like the amount of attention paid to the differences in social classes between Lynley and Havers. I wondered about it when I first saw the series on tv. Usually, they are not pointing it out quite so blatantly. I mean the differences are there, but they are not mentioned every 5 minutes. Maybe the fact that the writer isn't from England has something to do with it...

Nancy said...

Minna, I think there's a fair amount of emphasis on social class differences in the Inspector Lynley books. Is the TV writer not from England?

Do you think maybe they're emphasizing the mystery over the social aspects on TV?

Janga said...

Most of the time when I'm given an either/or choice, I want to change it to both/and. I have been a series junkie since I started reading Betsy-Tacy books at five. I was just rejoicing earlier today that Miranda Neville's Burgandy Clun series has at least two more books to anticipate, and I'll be at the bookstore early on November 5 to pay hardcover price for Margaret Maron's Christmas Mourning, #16 in her Deborah Knott series. I still wonder sometimes about those MacGregor grandchildren whose stories Nora Roberts never wrote. :)

On the other hand, sometimes I want something different. I'm reading a book now that is unlike anything I've read in quite some time, and I'm loving every word.

Nancy said...

Janga, I like Margaret Maron, too. I don't read as much mystery as I used to, but I liked Deborah Knott.

Maybe Nora will write those MacGregors someday. I recently read Chesapeake Blue, the sequel to the Quinn trilogy (aka Chesapeake Bay saga), and the dedication says something like "To all the readers who asked when I was going to write Seth's story." So maybe there's hope.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Hey Fedora! Congrats on the chookie-chook!

Nancy, fun blog. I particularly liked the comment about Mrs. Watson. hahah.

I adore series, and as you know, I love the In Death series as well. I truly like the Same, But Different. Grins.

Beth said...

Hey, Nancy. I love "the same but different". Right now I'm into The Closer (watching old episodes to get caught up for the new season this winter) and though it's the same characters and they solve crimes, I love how Brenda keeps evolving and growing *g*

I still haven't read all the Harry Potter books (I'm working on it, Tawny!) but I do know that's another series where the characters grow - literally and figuratively :-)

Minna said...

Minna, I think there's a fair amount of emphasis on social class differences in the Inspector Lynley books. Is the TV writer not from England?

Nope. Actually, it's the author who's not from England.

Do you think maybe they're emphasizing the mystery over the social aspects on TV?
As far as I can see, both in the tv series and the books about Inspector Lynley there was about
as much attention paid to the social aspects, but it's something that's more between Lynley and Havers. The social differences do come up in the English tv series and books, but not quite like this. That's what made me check out the nationality of the author.

Nancy said...

Beth, The Closer is one of those shows I keep meaning to check out. I'm glad to know the character grows as it progresses.

I'm with Tawny--you really, really need to read Harry Potter!

Nancy said...

Jeanne, I always felt for Mrs. Watson. :-)

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Me too, Nancy. :>

catslady said...

My first choice is a nice long book but then the trilogy would be the next best thing. My favorite series is Jean Auel's Earth's Children but she has taken forever to write the books and there are years and years and years in between books. I'm still waiting for the last one.

jo robertson said...

LOL, Nancy, I'll bet your students will like both kinds of action in the In Death series. The futuristic element is so subtle, one of the reasons I like that series so much.

Kim in Hawaii said...

Beth, you hit the nail on the head with "same but different" on the Closer. We know the beginning - a crime that Brenda cannot pass up. We know the end - she coerces the perp to confess. We know the middle is sprinkled with a few "Thank yous" and at least one confrontation with an authority figure. But the show still delivers a unexpected surprise and superb acting!

Beth said...

Beth, you hit the nail on the head with "same but different" on the Closer.

I so agree, Kim! And the small doses of humor throughout crack me up! Brenda is so complicated and has so many layers...I love watching her *g*

Deb said...

Hi, Nancy. I like the same, yet different stories. I read a lot of Regency-set romances and they are the same in setting, plot, and, in some ways, characters. Yet, each author puts her own special writing style into each story and that is how the romances are different.

I like books that are in sets as well as stand-alones. I like related stories because I enjoy catching glimpses of a previous hero and heroine; it can almost be like an epilogue of sorts.

I can't really pinpoint a fave series because I have enjoyed many, but I did enjoy Debbie Macomber's Orchard Valley Trilogy a long time ago because each of the sisters reminded me of my two sisters and me. It was neat to relate each heroine to either Sandy, Kris, or Deb because, strangely enough, the books could have been written with the three of us in mind.

Nancy said...

Catslady, that's an amazing series. I read the first one, but I have friends who follow it avidly. It's hard, isn't it, when the gap between books stretches out so long?

Nancy said...

Jo, I'll let you know what the students say. Seeing as how I'm the one who does the grading, I don't imagine they'll be entirely candid, though they could be. I don't expect them to like every book I assign, just to read them.

Nancy said...

Kim, knowing the outcome is okay with me if the getting there is absorbing.

Nancy said...

Deb, I hadn't thought of h/h appearances as supporting charactes in later books as being like epilogues, but I think that's a great comparison.

Donna MacMeans said...

I do like books that continue with characters that I love from a previous book, but I like that a new set of heroes and heroines take center stage. I like books that are stand alone in their own right, but connected.

EilisFlynn said...

Change is inevitable, and it's weird if it doesn't happen (unless you're a popular cartoon, in which case it makes perfect sense).

Nancy said...

Eilis, I also prefer not to see the same characters recyle the same dilemmas every time.

Nancy said...

Donna, I think a lot of people like connected books with different couples. There seem to be more of those than ones with continuing couples, though I'm seeing more of those in paranormal romance.

Louisa Cornell said...

Fedora ! Again??? What ARE you feeding that boy?

More of the same but different. I like that !! Great post, Nancy!

I have the entire original Star Trek series on VHS recorded off the television when the Biloxi television station started with the pilot and showed each episode in order over a series of weeks. Those tapes are over 20 years old so they don't get aired very often. LOVE that series!

I love a good romance series. Mary Balogh's Slightly series and the Simply series that came after it.

Julia Quinn's Bridgerton's, of course.

Stephanie Lauren's Cynsters and the Bastion Club.

Eloisa James Desperate Duchesses

So long as the characters are growing and changing and the stories are evolving I am hooked.

And I prefer to read the series in order.

Oh! And Madeline Hunter's Rare Blooms series ! Fabulous!

Nancy said...

Louisa, that's a great list! I've looked at box sets of the original Trek, but they cost way more than other SFF box sets do. I envy you getting them on tape from the beginning.

Christine Wells said...

Hi Nancy! Great blog. I think I agree with you -- I like the characters to evolve throughout the series. I devoured Agatha Christie during childhood and early teens but I don't think I'd go back and read them now, simply because I'm not as interested in the puzzle as I am in the characters in novels these days. It takes a talented author to hold all those reins in tandem and produce a book that has surprising twists as well as characters who grow and change. I've been downloading the In Death series on audio and JD Robb really does a superb job with that, doesn't she? Having said that, I can handle a continuing protagonist who doesn't change much but I don't like there to also be the same basic plot every time. The combination of the two is what stopped me reading certain series. It's like reading the same book over and over.

Nancy said...

Christine, I'm with you. The same plot over and over just doesn't keep me coming back, either.

SiNn said...

if the movie is about the book or the tv show is about the book i prefer it doesnt deviate unless its just kinda like the book and it tells that it was inspired by the book but isnt the book if that makes sence

personally i think film makers should tr to statr fresh and new ideas for movies and not just tap in to the literary world of books cause sometimes amovie totally ruins thebook and ppl who havent read the book assume its just like the movie

Nancy said...

SiNn, I also prefer that a movie closely track the source novel. I know some things have to be cut for time constraints. Still, it took me two viewings of The Fellowship of the Ring to adjust to some of the cuts.

Cassondra said...

I LOVE connected books! But...as a writer, I worry about trying to do the "different" with each book. I have themes that repeat throughout the ideas I have, and I worry that that will result in the same book over and over. :0/

That's probably a silly fear.