ASK AUNTIE MJ: THE CURSE OF THE SIMILAR THING
chickswithcrossbows asked you:
Auntie MJ – Let’s talk about originality. Every time I come up with a plot or an element for a novel that I think is new and undone, it seems like within a week I stumble across at least one book (sometimes more) that have the same element/plot/thing I thought was totally new. I know every story has been told, yadda yadda yadda, but it’s discouraging. How do I ignore the other similar stuff and just focus on my own writing? – DonetoDeath
Dear Done to Death,
You are VERY WISE to acknowledge this conundrum, because it is true. Stories are like royalty … kind of fancily inbred. Common elements and twists pop up all over the place. You write your vampire scuba scene, and there it is, on your favorite show, Days of Our Endless Vampire Lives. How could this happen?
It just does, is how. Once you start working on your story, you become very attuned to all things like your story. You start floating in those sections of the library or bookstore. You start drifting toward those television shows and movies with similar content. And the more you do this, the more you will see shadows of your work. I’m not saying you will become a PARANOID WRECK, but you may start seeing it everywhere.
You may start seeing your story everywhere.
In all likelihood, you don’t need to worry yourself so much.It’s probably not exactly like your scene anyway. You can’t copy something you’ve never encountered. Plus, one element is just that, one element. The story surrounding it is probably quite different.
I can tell you that many writers I know (me included) avoid other novels that are known to be similar to what we are working on. Someone just said to me yesterday, “I had to avoid Name of the Star until I was done with my serial killer book. But now I’m finished, so I can read it!” We talk like this all the time; it’s a known behavior. This is to prevent picking up accidental influences.
So if this is really concerning you, stay away from those things until you are done your draft. Read OPPOSITE THINGS. You can’t copy it if you don’t see it.