Monday, February 1, 2010

A Day Late and a Story Short

Okay, so have you ever missed the idea boat? Gone to jump on board a brand new ship just to discover it sailed the day before? Had a completely awesome idea that you just knew that no one else on the face of the earth has ever had before? You get so excited you grab the nearest pen or computer and madly scribble notes and ideas, you spend hours researching, you let your crit buddies know that the best thing they have ever read is on its way, you sit and you type and you type...and then you take a break. You pick up a book that everyone has been raving about - and about half way through, you realize IT'S YOUR STORY!  (and how was that for one long awesome sentence *ahem* )

Well, this has happened to me, on more than one occasion. Maybe not quite that drastically. Somewhere deep inside I know that there really isn't such a thing as a totally brand new idea. Just new ways of spinning old tales. But still, sometimes it's a bit of a shock to be reading a story and have elements of your own story rear up and hit you in the face. Especially if the similarities are strong and it's a story you've never heard of before in your life.

So what do you do when this happens? Do you scrap the whole idea and start over? Do you continue on your merry way and not worry about it all?

For me, I think it depends on how striking the similarities are. It really is possible to have almost the exact same idea as someone you have never met, whose work you have never read. It's a bit depressing when it happens, a little disappointing - but for me, I usually sit and think about how I can tweak it, how I can spin the idea to make it even more different than the story that beat me to the punch.

I mean, why did Stephanie Meyer go so big? Were vampire love stories a new idea? Not even close. But vampires that can go in the sun and sparkle like a diamond? Yeah, that's a new twist. If you give ten writers an assignment to write a ghostly love story, you are going to get ten completely different tales, even if there are very similar elements.
So I try not to worry about it, for the most part. Yes, I do try some tweakage, and I make it a point not to read books that are in the same story arena as the one I am working on, just in case I accidentally pick something up. I'll read YA if I'm writing YA, but if I'm working on a YA ghost story, I'm not going to read any ghost stories until my book is completely done (though I probably wouldn't go reading ghost stories anyways...I live in a very old house and have a ridiculously overactive imagination) :D

But I think the best thing you can do is just write. Chances are, you'll be fine. If not, revisions are always fun ;-D

So how do you handle it?


Stephanie L. McGee said...

I gave up for a while, moved on to world-building for a different trilogy. Then I went back to it when I struck on an idea to solve the similarity issues. (For me, though, it was too much influence by favorite authors whom I'd read.)

B.J. Anderson said...

Oh no! So far, I haven't had it happen to this degree, but it has happened a lot with short stories. I just go grrr and move on.

Regina Quentin said...

I handle it by doing some tweakage, as you said. One story though, I absolutely just gave up on. I knew (really strongly felt) that there would be no way to make my story different enough. I was devastated. It was actually a movie that a friend was telling me about that was exactly like my novel...

The devastation turned into motivation for something new. This was a great question.

Elana Johnson said...

This just happened to me! I've got my book out with some betas and one came back and said my book was exactly like this cartoon I've never heard of!

I had a panic moment. For a few hours. Finally, I researched it and decided that the themes were the same, but my book was different enough.

It's all about the spin.

Or maybe I'm delusional.

Michelle McLean said...

Yep, that panic usually sets in first but so far, in my own experience, after looking at everything a bit more, I find there are more differences than similarities, and by then I have usually come up with a new twist or two to make things even more different.

As of now, I've only completely abandoned one project, a MG story that I think I will probably revisit one of these days with the awesome twists that I haven't come up with yet :D

Falen said...

Getting awards is always fun

Patti said...

I once had a friend say to me that someone could steal your plot, your characters and setting and come out with a completely different book because everyone writes different.

I think I would still work on it and maybe change a few plot points if need be.

Suze said...

Well, this happened to me just the other day. I think the most upsetting part was that I had been working, on and off, on my book for 4 years, and I've been wracked with the feeling that if I had just put my head down and finished it earlier, I'd have been the first with that story! Maybe I'm kidding myself, but still... Sigh.

Michelle McLean said...

Suze, I feel for you. Sometimes when I'm working on a project, I start feeling frantic, thinking "I've got to get this out there before the market gets saturated!" But then, sending out a book that still needs work isn't going to help me at all :)

I think, bottom line, no matter what your story or how many similar stories are out there, if your story has that special twist, that "it" factor that none of the other books out there have, then it will make it.

And if you get a lot of "there are too many of these out there right now," well, I figure you can just put it on hold for a while, work on other stuff, and in a year or so when the market has moved on to its new trend, you can pull it back out again :)

There's always hope :)

L.T. Elliot said...

I haven't had that happen often and when I do, the differences are big enough that I haven't had to worry about it. But still, I DO worry and so I try to make sure I'm as unique as possible. I guess time will tell if I'm managing it. ;)