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Wednesday
Nov142012

Copycat? 

Question of the day: How do you deal with your story ideas that overlap or are eerily similar to another author's? I have been working on a "do-over" book for the last three years.  I just read the website of another one of my favorite authors who was describing a new novel she has coming out.  It is almost the exact same story as mine. I have been literally sick to my stomach for the last three hours since I read her post.  I thought I would ask you this question not only because I value your opinion, but also because you, too, have written a book where the main character is swept back into the past (LOVED Time of My Life, by the way!). One of my biggest fears about my storyline is believability of what is happening to the character, but to throw the fact that I now feel like a fraud on top of it is crippling me to the point of wanting to chuck the whole thing!  

This is a GREAT question, and please know that you are not alone in your struggles with worrying about originality and being a copy-cat. My dear friend, Laura Dave, often says that there are like, seven ideas in the world, and authors just spend their time writing or rewriting these ideas. Which is to say that a lot of us cover the same themes and same stories, but we all hope to repurpose them in a way that's never been done.

Does that always happen? Well...no. But that doesn't mean that you should quit. For example, shortly after Time of My Life came out, I was told about a book called What Alice Forgot. A lot of readers wrote to tell me that it reminded them of TOML. I hadn't read it, so I didn't know. WAF did gang-busters. Shortly after that, I came out with The Song Remains the Same. A lot of reviewers then compared Song to WAF! And I picked up WAF last week and can definitely see the comparisons. But should I not have written it? No way. I think I put my own spin on the book and (while I haven't finished it yet, so I can't say for sure), I think both books - What Alice Forgot and The Song Remains the Same - stand on their own. 

All of that said, I totally understand your panic. NO ONE wants to be accused of cribbing an idea. But the truth is that unless you share the exact same brain, your book is bound to be different than the other author's. I mean, it simply has to be because you are a different writer. Does this mean that yours will be harder to sell, since she beat you to the punch? Maybe yes (if her sales do poorly or the market for this type of book tightens) but maybe no (it's not as if other vampire books had a tough time once Twilight took off). I guess what I'm saying here is that this shouldn't be a reason to quit. Maybe you'll write a BETTER book than said author. Or maybe you won't. But there will be dozens of reason why your book will or won't be successful - this is just one of them. 

One last note: I used to not read any authors who wrote similar books to mine while I was in the thick of the writing process. I was too worried that I would unintentionally copy them, whether it was their ideas or their phrasing. If there is a book that is already out that is truly very similar to your concept, I might skip reading it, as counter-intuitive as that sounds. Then, I DO think you run the risk of letting that other book get in your head. I've since ditched this rule (for myself) because I've discovered that reading work from my peers really inspires me to get busy writing, but for many years, this rule worked for me, and assured (me) that I was coming up with 100% original work. (With the understanding that you have to go back to Laura's idea: many of us are pulling off of the same themes and emotions - it's what you do with it from there that makes it original and your own.)

Readers - have you ever run into this scenario? How did you handle it? 

Reader Comments (1)

7 stories repeated? You betcha. Time and again, from Homer to Dan Brown.

When I was 17 I heard this and gave up. Well, not quite. I needed some experience and then the skill and desire to tell "the story" in my words, with my characters and in the unique setting that defines generations and language. Now I feel better about what I write.

I am very concerned about originality and so use (abuse?) some of the writer's privilege to play with language. I write novels: comedy, local color/regional, etc. I actually blogged about this myself a couple of weeks ago. I wonder if genre facilitates this problem of similar stories from different authors?

And the final twist I use to keep things original is to write in the first person a lot. After all, the first person is the original, isn't he/she?

I write full time now and just blast away on the stories that have been percolating for years. I even re-wrote a short story a while back that I had written while in university. Sadly, it is more relevant today than even then! I enjoyed the process and was emotional for 3 days after finishing it. Now, that wasn't original either, but can one plagiarize oneself? Just a really, really slow editing process…

I don't mean to suggest that having the same idea for a story makes anyone a plagiarist. Clearly that is a different kettle of fish.

Sorry, rattling on here…

December 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteral cool
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