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?

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