Greg de la Cruz works in the tech industry and is the author of two published titles on Amazon.
Green Light, a Short Novel
I wrote Green Light in 2020 as an attempt to test an idea.
My theory was that you could fit your own story inside the twists and turns of a literary classic such as The Great Gatsby and still find the finished product as a different, distinct story. And having eaten up the pages of Haruki Murakami's Killing Commendatore which contained some obvious nods to Fitzgerald's work, I wanted to see if I could do the same. I decided to give it a try.
Did it work?
The Answer to Writer's Block?
The underrated thing about using another piece of fiction as your mold, is that your fear of writer's block suddenly shrinks. The outline and major plot points of the story are already there for you to 'borrow'. And your work as an author becomes less daunting.
Don't get me wrong, the writing activity still felt as if I was making something original. But unlike writing other fiction books where you decide from the start that it's either a crime novel, mystery, romance, etc., it was as if Gatsby was its own special genre. I was merely fitting my narrative inside the expected plot points of the story. Take for example detective stories, where the following would be the obligatory scenes:
- The unresolved crime, with a survey of the suspects
- The investigatory process, digging for clues
- The reveal, with a shocking twist!
In writing my first full-length novel, I'm not ashamed to say that Green Light rips off so much from The Great Gatsby. To call my own work a duplicate of another's may sound harsh, but it's true that several key scenes from my first publication were taken directly from F. Scott Fitzgerald's timeless classic.
Here are 7 similarities between these two novels.
1. The story starts off with the protagonist moving to a new home.
Making the hero move to a new home at the start of the story sets up almost the entire story. The hero in The Great Gatsby is not the title character – but the narrator, Nick Carraway, whose perspective we see the story unfold. In Green Light, this setup was made identical, as Henry Carishere moved to an island to start his own business (just a little bit different in Gatsby, wherein Nick moved to become a trader in New York). I really liked the way Fitzgerald started off Gatsby – on a fresh note, the protagonist trying to get acclimated to a new environment, catching up with old friends and not really expecting that much drama to unfold.
2. The ‘catching up’ lunch scene borrows from the dinner scene when Nick visits Tom Buchanan’s home.
When I first read Gatsby, I found the dinner scene with Daisy, Tom, and Jordan to be a little bit awkward – mostly because I wasn’t used to Fitzgerald’s writing style. But rewatching the made-to-life scene on the 2013 movie made me realize just how great that scene was, and how the constraints of a feature film format failed to capture the essence of that scene. That said, I’m not here to give a breakdown of any scene – instead, I’m here to say that I borrowed that scene for what it was. It was a convenient way to get to know the caricatures of the main characters, while setting up the succeeding events of the story. In Green Light, Henry meets Rachel, Mike, and Natasha for lunch to meet for the first time after Henry was away from their hometown.
3. The protagonist learns of an affair which his friend openly flaunts.
Meeting Myrtle the mistress in Gatsby was a very conflicting event for Nick, whose cousin Daisy was Tom’s faithful wife. What made it worse was that Tom flaunted his mistress to Nick, as if it was something normal that to not be accepting of such would make you a party-pooper. A similar scene unfolds in Green Light when Mike, Rachel’s fiancé, takes Henry to a resort – and there he meets Mike’s mistress. This was a few weeks from Mike and Rachel’s wedding – which is probably not as bad compared to a married guy doing the same thing – but cheating all the same.
4. It turns out that the ‘Daisy’ of the story also managed to keep a secret from the ‘Tom’ for years.
The secret that Daisy seemed to be keeping from Tom was that she met Gatsby several years ago when he was still a nobody, as someone off to fight the war but basically had nothing to show for to impress a lady. They were smitten on the day of their meeting those years ago, and theirs was a lost love that was hard for Daisy to let go – even until the day of her wedding with Tom. In Green Light, a similar situation unfolds between Rachel and Stagg – secret lovers in college, with a secret they had to keep for years in order for each of their lives to go ‘as planned.’ Of course, like in Gatsby, the secret would eventually rise to the surface and drive the whole narrative.
5. The lunch scene where the mysterious lover meets the ‘Tom’ borrows from the apartment scene in The Great Gatsby where things reach a breaking point.
The apartment scene in Gatsby was an immensely important scene, because it was essentially a tug of war between good-and-evil – and it was as if Daisy was given the impossible task of deciding which decision was good, and which was evil. At that point in the story, it would be easy to root for Daisy ending up with Gatsby because of how the character was built up by Fitzgerald and the backstory that he wrote about him. But what’s easy to miss in that scene was that Tom Buchanan, the antagonist-by-default of the story, deserved some justice because he was audacious enough to try to win Daisy back despite his own extramarital affair and antics. Plus, for Daisy it would make sense to stay with Tom, who was the safer choice. In Green Light, we get a similar tug-of-war between Mike and Stagg, who fight for the affection of Rachel – just ending a bit differently from Gatsby.
6. One of the main characters gets shot.
Surprise, surprise – just like in Gatsby, one of the main characters of Green Light gets shot. In Killing Commendatore, I don’t recall of anyone getting shot, but I do remember that someone gets stabbed by a sword. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as imaginative as Haruki Murakami when I wrote my first novel, and so I settled with a scene involving a gun. The resolution is also a dark one, with the person we have been trying to root for taking some fall as a culprit. I thought the ending of Gatsby was one of the most tragic endings I’d ever read, with the title character never accomplishing his goal on top of being pinned as the bad guy. Thankfully, we don’t get the same type of tragedy in the ending of Green Light which probably makes its own ending a lot less eloquent.
7. The protagonist leaves his new home in the end.
Both novels end up with the hero leaving his new home – and Fitzgerald probably articulated the rationale way better than I did, and I ever could. It was Nick Carraway’s distaste for the upper-class people like Daisy and Tom who were reckless in their ways and who were inauthentic, plus the sorrow of losing his one authentic friend, Gatsby. For Henry Carishere, maybe there’s some of the same reasoning of why he left – but I didn’t really get into it, as I ended it on an exposition rather than on a philosophical reflection as was the case for Nick Carraway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Should you even bother reading 'Green Light'?
This whole article almost sounds like a complete advertisement for my own book, and I do hope you found my comparisons here intriguing enough to give Green Light a read. The first few chapters are free to read both on Amazon and on Play Books – so if you want to check the book out, I’ve placed multiple links on this article.
Should you bother reading Green Light? I’d say yes, for the same reason that you would still read an Agatha Christie novel despite reading all the Sherlock Holmes stories. Not that I am anywhere remotely close to Fitzgerald, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Agatha Christie – because I’m clearly not. If I was, I probably wouldn’t do a self-review to boost visibility of my own book, which I just did.