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Monday Meandering: Second verse, same as the first

Monday, August 14, 2006
I taped the first ever Bogie and Bacall movie, To Have and Have Not, and watched it a couple of nights ago. It was great. Not unbelievably deep, but still tons of fun. A lot of similarities to Casablanca, but with a happier ending. (Just FYI, there was a 26 year age difference between them. She was 19, he was 45.)

Anyway, as I was watching this movie, I kept getting this funny feeling that I'd seen it before. Little lines, little gestures, scenarios just felt really familiar to me. Then it hit me.

Rio Bravo. El Dorado. Both Howard Hawks films.

It's the same damn movie!!! Well, not quite, but pretty close -- at least as far as the love story goes. Now, El Dorado really is a remake of Rio Bravo, but I had no idea that Hawks had been building the same heroine, the same hero, the same hook, for years.

Heroine blows into hero's town, down on her luck. Hero tries to get her out of town, even though he's attracted. She doesn't go. They fall in luuuuurve.

Bacall utters one of the most famous lines in movie history in THaHN: "You know how to whistle, don't you? You just put your lips together, and blow." I actually rewound the scene to watch her do it again. Lord, she was sex on wheels.

Angie Dickinson gives John Wayne a variation on the line in RB and then Charlene Holt does it again in ED.

So how far can you milk a set-up before folks start to point and laugh? I mean, I know I've wonked about Nora (not that she's paying any attention) and the rut she fell into for a while with the redhead/blonde/brunette trilogies.

Hawks used this hook for at least two decades. THaHN was a 1944 film, ED was made in 1966. I don't know how many of his earlier films did it.

Is it ok for authors to do the same thing? There's an issue of comfort for the reader, I suppose. It's nice to know that when I pick up a certain author, I know what I'm going to get. But for me, that's more about voice than just using the same plot devices or, worse yet, the same characters, over and over.

You tell me. It'll save me a heckuva lot of work. ;)
8/14/2006 01:34:00 PM : : Sela Carsen : : 4 Comments


For years and years I tried to get the key to John Fowles THE MAGUS, which I held to be the masterpiece of the 20th century.
It was about elaborate mind-*uckers
doing a number on a young man's head on a Greek island.
I even copied Fowle's style and plotline for a while.
But then I realized he was lost too, just writing from the hip--but what writing!
I finally gave up and drafted out my own novel from my own autobiographical sources. I didn't have to lean on Vronsky out of Madame Bovary for a character: I WAS Vronsky!
Well, no sooner do I get my Light Over Newmarket e-published than my friend Aaron Braaten points me to
a site called Marginal Revolution and on that site there is mention of one Jennifer Egan producing a tighter, better plotted version of THE MAGUS.
Somebody else following the Master?

Maybe I should have stayed with my copy-catting. Looks like Ms. Egan is going to do really well with the John Fowles crib.
I applaud her, but I wish the hell
I'd stayed with my instincts.

By Blogger ivan, at 5:14 PM  

Is it okay? er...hmmmm, maybe not. Certainly not what I'm aiming for. But that's a lot to be said for comfort reads. A number of authors have made a nice living (and many fans happy) doing it.

By Blogger Jaye, at 7:26 PM  

If you hit on a winning formula, your publisheres will want more of the same.
Some people always write the same core story.
Amanda Quick is apparently reknown for it, but she is v popular.

The key of course is hitting on that winning core that works for you and for your readers.

By Blogger Michelle Styles, at 7:02 AM  

That core may be your voice.
Sometimes takes three novels to find it.
And along with Humpty-Dumpty in Through the Looking glass, "once you hear it, you'll be quite content."

By Blogger ivan, at 11:08 AM  

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