Trendy? Or Just Overplayed?

August 1st, 2008 • Kate

I’m sort of co-opting an Ask An Editor question for this post, but in going through my electronic stack of queries, I’m finding certain trends or plot devices that keep repeating. So this isn’t so much an answer to “what’s the hot new trend?” but a cautionary tale against writing something that relies only a certain possibly overdone plot device.
So what am I seeing over and over again? Books about people drowning, which, though it may seem timely in a summer that’s seen a rash of drownings on New York area beaches, begins to feel really familiar and unoriginal by the time you’re read the fifth or tenth or twentieth query that uses as a plot device someone drowning or worrying about drowning. Not to say that it can’t be done well, but I’m just putting it out there that I’m seeing a lot of it.
Also, reality shows. This feels completely overdone to me, and I’m not just saying that because I’m the opposite of a fan of reality tv. As I recently responded to a partial that centered around a reality tv show, “There’s something about setting a novel in and around a reality show that takes away some of the creativity of the work to me. ‘Reality’ shows are, to such a large degree, a falsely constructed mini-world that using one as a basis for a novel feels almost like a crutch.”
More as they come to me!

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3 Responses to “Trendy? Or Just Overplayed?”

  1. jeanoram Says:

    Can I just say that I LOVE the fact that you used a picture of Crocs for this topic?
    🙂
    Jean

  2. Anonymous Says:

    I understand pet peeves and everyone's entitled to theirs, 🙂 but I disagree about drownings.
    First, how are writers who are submitting queries around drownings, for example, to even know that other writers have written plots that include drownings, too? It's not as if they're sending Harry Potter or Twilight knock-offs. It's not as if novels with drownings along beaches or wherever are all over the bestseller lists. As a writer, I can tell you that a drowning within a novel is not a plot device, per se, but a detail within a plot and if it's necessary, then that's that. To me, it's real life such as a character driving a car (gets into an accident), owning a home (house burns down), having a job (getting fired)–all real life situations.
    By the way, I'm not one of the writers who queried you with a novel like this. I'm just curious about your reaction to something that occurs daily in the real world. I guess my question is should these writers now trunk their novels?
    Thanks for allowing me to comment.

  3. Kate Says:

    Anonymous –
    The very reason I wrote this post is so that other writers who have included plots about drownings know that it's a common device — or, as you say, a detail in a plot that currently seeing a lot of play.
    Seeing yet another novel that involves a drowning doesn't automatically make me say no, but much as with vampire novels, it forces me to ask what else is new or original about the book, beyond a drowning. Basically, it just raises the bar.
    So, no, a writer needn't trunk their novel if it involves one of these overplayed devices, but just be aware that for whatever reason, lots of other people right now seem to have a similar idea, and that makes the competition even more fierce.