What’s Up Prima?

While watching Snow White the other day, my little one looks over and says to me:

     “Mommy, the queen from Snow White looks like Maleficent, they must be cousins.”

I had to chuckle. Then I got to thinking about…nothing else other than literary cousins (AKA the primo/prima of written word). Now what makes something a literary cousin so to speak? I figure they have to have some similarities. Right? Right. This is the kind of thing we authors wonder about. Is it appropriate to mention in a query that our book is similar to another? I mean does a literary agent or editor really want to hear all that? Besides what makes a book so fantastic if it is considered to be a literary prima to another book already out there?

So while looking out for ourselves we search titles on Amazon. We then Google similar titles all for the sake of originality. Then that dreaded moment comes when we discover how unoriginal we really are–“Wo is me! Aye me. Little me. Our book is drowning,” you say to your muse. You are perfectly still. Then it dawns on you that lemons don’t make juicy lemonade without a twist  of the fruit and a little sugar, and running shoes aren’t much aid to a runner without that special double knot in them to keep them secure on the feet. So you take a conference call with your manuscript, and why not, you have worked so hard on it? Does it have a similar voice, plot, setting, character(s)? You nail down the similarities and you chip away at the pieces that you fear have any slight echo. I’m not talking plagiarism. That little devil is a whole other story. Your creation just had to be a bit similar. How could you have known, you were too busy creating it! Slowly you realize something else. Aha! There it is! A hybrid. Your hybrid. 

Finally you pick yourself up from the nitty gritty dirt. You wipe your face. You tinker away until the sun goes down…and voila you are back in the game! Enough said. You are having a blast! 

You will find that there are sure to be ridiculous (shall I say hefty) amounts of literature similar to your own (even if but a smidge, a smudge, a little pinch even) if you are a writer. Somewhere out there every writer has at least one rockin’ prima. The great thing about literature is that everything no matter how similar it is, has a spin or a twist on it. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t get a kick out of these Literary Prima’s that may have caught your fancy, maybe you even found that they glimmer equal amounts–to your delight:

and just when you think you have had enough, here is a link to introduce you to MORE spin-offs of classics!
So similar and yet so different! Both a lot of fun to read before bed!
By Don Freeman
…both very adventurous bears who are more worried more about their tummies than the conflict at hand. Do I need to mention Corduroy too?
And what about all those stories about witches who don’t quite fit the norm, like:
..too many to post here! If you recall any others feel free to mention them by commenting. 
I could go on, but instead I have some insight for you…
Upon further research on this topic I found this bit of information in an article* by author Maria Nikolajeva: 
“Harold Bloom discusses in his widely known study The Anxiety of Influence (1973) a pattern of literary evolution in which every writer has a model, The Great Literary Father, from whose influence he (writers are by definition male in Bloom’s theory) must liberate himself. A true writer will, according to Bloom, achieve at least some degree of freedom from the model, both by absorbing and transforming his strength.”  
I found this quite interesting. I feel it is true we all have a model or model(s) that we pattern our writing after simply because we have read them and enjoyed them so much. This does not go to say that we do not struggle or fail to find our own voice in our writing aside from what we have come to enjoy in other works of literature. 
Reading further on into the article*, Nikolajeva states that “…the anxiety of not being able to compete with the Master is an inevitable part of the creative process.”  Without the feat of overcoming that fear, no author ever proceeds onward toward the high aspiration of publication. Or possibly the fear spurs the author on instead. What do you think?
I have to agree that this is something we all hope and aspire to–to be able to measure ourselves apart from the literary “master(s)” who came before us–to be able to measure our success and define our writing for what it truly is when our words come face to face with the critic or more importantly the author themselves. 
Those who paved that great literary path so that we too can lay our own brick down on the path–I hold my pen upward to them! 
*Article from:  Papers: Explorations into Children’s Literature Article date: May 1, 2008 Author: Nikolajeva, Maria

The article mentioned above is really very interesting. If you wish to read further (although this link does not give the full article only more than I have shared with you) you can click here to read more.

Your thoughts are as usual welcome in the comments!! What say you?


Filed under Literary Cousins, Masterpiece Monday, What's Up Prima

7 responses to “What’s Up Prima?

  1. LTM

    oh, Goodnight Goon! I've never seen that one. Funny~ It's true there are lots of similarities. But we all have our unique approach~ :o) ❤

  2. I do believe i have my own voice and unique twist on things but at the end of the day there really is nothing new under the sun, we all just have a diff perspective.Have you seen Bride and prejudice?

  3. I almost picked Bride and prejudice up at the video store one time but caved to another movie that was popular that year. We do have our own perspectives and unique approach. Thank goodness for that!

  4. I like the lemon juice saying, and Prada and Prejudice…funny and original (this is the first time I come across it anyway)

  5. Fun post. I think Jane Austen's probably cornered the market on spin-offs. I'd love to skip ahead a couple years and see what authors are as wildly popular then as she is now.

  6. K.M.: Oh yeah! I'd love to see that! But no peeking yet. The future is a ways off! LOL.

  7. I've seen Bride and Prejudice. Never can resist a Bollywood film. :-)I think you make a good point here Angela. There are almost always derivations in every new work harking back to stories/novels/ideas which have come before. As you said, the key is putting your own spin on things. Dan Brown made a heck of a lot of money with a basic idea which had already been thought up by someone else.Certainly though, a new story can simply be too close to an existing well-known idea, and this is apparently something which drives agents and publishers crazy (like the rash of stories about young boys going off to train to be wizards which were written on the heels of Harry Potter's success).Have to admit I've never read P&P…and Zombies. Really not sure I want to go there!

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