The Not So Silence of the Lambs

So I’m reading a thriller titled Fallen by Karin Slaughter…

And there’s a scene where a FBI-type must go to a prison and visit a particularly heinous guy who is in isolation — a gloomy little section of the prison that the author calls, and what many other books/television shows call, “the hole.” The warden of the hospital is giving the guy a rundown of what to do and not to do during his visit — don’t get too close, keep your back to the wall, duck if something is thrown at you, do this, don’t do that, blah, blah.

As I’m reading, the scene is blatantly familiar. I mean, smack-in-the-face familiar. The feel of the prison. The detailed instructions. The maniacal inmate. I thought to myself, “This is practically The Silence of the Lambs.” I kept reading and wondered if the author even realized the obvious similarities. I mean, if she had, then that’s a problem, no? And if she hadn’t, wasn’t that too a problem?

And then just as I was about to throw my hands up in frustration, another detective said to the first detective in jest, “Quid pro quo, Clarice.”

“Aha” was my first thought! I wasn’t crazy after all. There was a similarity. And the author is totally aware. Whew.

And then I thought about how interesting a technique that was for her to use. A moment of levity that acknowledged, Yes, I know what this sounds like… I wondered at what point she realized that what she was writing resembled the famous Thomas Harris novel. Had she known it all along? Midway? Had she intended it that way? Or at what point did she decide to pay homage to The Silence of the Lambs rather than scrap that portion of the chapter or rewrite it in a way that wasn’t a near-replication.

These are the kinds of choices writers make. And I think in this case, it worked. Still, I wondered if I would have made the same choice. Would you have?


3 thoughts on “The Not So Silence of the Lambs

  1. I scrapped a whole novel that I worked on for years after a friend told me about another published novel that resembled my story. I read that novel and found entire scenes that were almost exactly like ones in my book. I had never before heard of this author or had occasion to run across her, so it was weird, but it made me think about that Audre Lorde quote: “There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.” With the novel I plan to publish soon, I’ve found a few of the same ideas or tropes in other books, but I’ve decided to go ahead (although in some instances, I do a little tweaking, if it doesn’t seem to be a big deal). And maybe I’ll return to that other novel someday and give it another go. I think Audre would approve.

  2. Very true! There are very few new ideas but the way to make an old idea new is like taking a vintage dress and making it work for the present. I find that fascinating. Great post, very interesting.

  3. There is hardly anything one can write without unintentionally plagiarizing some song, screenplay, novel, or blog. Surely it has happened to all of us. We pour our souls into “the greatest idea ever” – the most brilliant chapter in history, only to hear it on a CD, see it in a movie, or read it somewhere.

    “There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known.
    Nothing you can see that isn’t shown……”
    “Nothing you can say, but you can learn how to play the game…..”
    Oh yeah, the poets John and Paul already thought of that Magical Mystery…..

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