Saturday, June 16, 2007

Excuse Me, Haven't I Seen This Plot Before?

Picture this: A proud moment. You’ve just spent months (maybe years, maybe weeks if you’re disciplined) writing a whole entire novel. Your characters are so real they could be made of flesh and bone. The story zings in all the right places. There’s an action-packed beginning, the middle is sinewy and not one bit saggy, and the ending – well, you’ve outdone Stephen King, haven’t you?

Then you go to a bookstore and treat yourself. The first tome you pick up is in the same genre as yours and has an enticing title. Its cover is to die for. But when you read the blurb, you want to die for a whole 'nother reason. Why? Because this published book, with its snappy name and shiny cover, is exactly like the one you’ve just finished writing. Same setting, same plot, same everything.

How does this happen? Is it a product of collective unconsciousness? (Great time-waster here.) Where the heck are you going to find an original idea?

I’ll leave the how’s and the why’s to scientists and philosophers. What you, the writer, need to focus on is your own book. It may seem like the end of the world, but don’t panic. Unless you plagiarised whole sections word-for-word (and you wouldn't have done that), you really shouldn’t throw your hands up and abandon the project.

What will set your story apart from that Doppelganger? I’m sure you’ll find lots of things, starting with:
a. Your voice. It comes from within. Sure, you can mimic someone else’s voice, but it won’t ring true.

b. Main characters and bit players. Maybe they’re motivated by different things; maybe they’re more tortured or more emotionally stable; maybe your heroine’s tall and the other book’s heroine is short. You get the idea.

c. The basic plot maybe similar to yours, but it’s likely you’ll see twists in other directions.

So your book has a fraternal twin. Where to from here? Choose your own adventure:
a. Scrap your book. (Not recommended – I’m just throwing options around here.)

b. Tweak, revise, polish. Remember, you have the advantage of creating a stronger hook.

c. Do nothing (that includes wallowing in depression) because you’re convinced your book is similar...but different.

d. Put your manuscript away to marinate and start on something new.

e. Vow never to read again, that way you won’t be influenced by others. (Er...also not recommended.)

f. Google that elusive factory where new ideas for books are invented daily by a crack team. Or is it a team on crack? I think they have a MySpace page...

g. Read widely, keep developing your skills and style, quit comparing yourself to other writers.

h. A combination of the above.

So, fellow writers, has this happened to you? How did you deal with it?


Amanda Ashby said...

At times like this I normally resort to the dark arts to create a time/space condrum to take the other book out of existance!!!

Seriously, though, eeeeek!!! I've never had it happen on a finished wip before, though plenty of times on a partial and then I've just moved onto something else. On the plus side, if something else is out there looking all gorgeous and shiney, it's going to let editors know that it's saleable!!

Authorness said...

Ah, you've hit on a very important point - that it's a marketable idea. I feel better now...

Anonymous said...

"When you come right down to it, all the stories have been told countless times before, and all the settings have been used again and again, and the primary thing any writer has to sell is his special voice, his unique point of view, his individuality as it is reflected by and refracted in his fiction." -Dean Koontz