Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hey, that was my idea!

I feel like I keep reading about the topic of people accusing writers of stealing or copying ideas from other books, movies, etc. Now I'm not so fond of this debate because I tend to think that ideas are in a constant recycling program. I mean really, what ideas are 100% original these days? Regardless of how fresh something seems if you really start to examine it you're sure to find similarities. But who really cares? I don't. If a story is good I could care less about the ways its like another story. Unless it's too extreme of course. I don't think the gate keepers of the publishing world are too fond of letting copy cats pass through.

In my own personal writing experience I've done my best to steer clear of any similarities to other books. The problem is what happens when you have some amazing idea but know it's been done already. I'm not talking about anything major but more of the smaller stuff, like say an amusement park as part of the story. I recently read one of the best books ever and it has some pretty sweet roller coaster moments. Last night we made our annual journey to a somewhat local amusement park that's in a wooded area so there are trees all over the place around the rides providing some very dark corners and paths. Spooky with the whole carnival music blaring from the carousel. Of course I was bombarded with ideas for my new WIP. Does this mean I'm copying? Well heck no. I bet there are hundreds if not thousands of books in print that include scenes at an amusement park.

My struggle is with over thinking whether an element (thankfully never a plot) is original enough. I get too paranoid that it feels too much like something out there, especially when it's a book I already love. I guess that's part of why I didn't read as much as usual while I was in the intensive part of writing my first draft. I hate the idea of being too influenced by other work at that moment. A prime example - my revisions after reading The Hunger Games all ended up in present tense! *gasp* Apparently it's not always a case of ideas, it might be tense or style or some other element of writing.

On the flip side there is a lot to benefit from other writers. We can learn how to write better by reading books written by authors who are successful at the things we strive to create - natural dialogue, plot twists, true to life descriptions. So it looks like my new philosophy will be to say "to hell with it" and write whatever comes out without thinking for one second whether any aspect of it's already been done. Because odds are it has. The key is to stay true to your writing voice and to just let it flow without worrying, in the end it will all come together. That's what revisions are for.

Anyone else have input on this topic? Ever have a fabulous idea only to discover a new book coming out is similar, too similar?


Lazy Writer said...

I agree with you. Worrying about accidentally copying someone else's work keeps the creativity from coming out. Even if it's something similar to some other writing, it could never be exactly the same.

Nikola said...

I agree with you 100%. There's really not a lot of things that haven't been covered yet, and if everyone should follow the same stupid philosophy, we would all just be stuck with already written books.

Plus, if I was a writer and saw the influence of my novel in one of another author, I would be so proud!

Lady Glamis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lady Glamis said...

Rebecca, I LOVE this post. These are my thoughts exactly. This is one of the reasons I don't read while I'm working on a WIP.

I've always wanted to put an amusement park in one of my stories. I'm sure it will happen eventually!

My input on this is that everything really has already been written - but not the way YOU would write. So just write!

Shelli said...

im sure you can do the amusement park differently

Amy said...

Interesting post! I agree. There would be nothing else to write about if people didn't "steal" idea to expand on.

Rebecca @sometimesnonsense said...

Glad to see I'm not alone on this topic!

Thanks for the comments everyone. I'm thinking I'll go for the amusement park scene for sure now!

I see some new names - Nikola, Shelli and Amy. Thanks for stopping in!

Jenna said...

I think if you don't intentionally copy, nobody will care. Because there *aren't* any 100% new ideas. Is my WiP the first book to deal with a revolution in another world? Heck no. Do I think it's original enough that it doesn't matter? Heck yes. :)

Oh, PS-- I've got a blog award for you over at my blog. :D

Bianca said...

totally agree.

I'm reading Tolkien for the first time at the moment and every once in a while i come across things and think: "Oh wait, that's exactly like in _______" strange enough most of the books i fill into the blank are ones i thought were pretty unique and original. I still think they are.

Lisa and Laura said...

Um, yeah. I think this happens a lot. Our book bears some similarities to Veronica Mars (which we'd never seen) and we watched it after our book was on submission to publishers and sort of wanted to cry.

And even our WIP which we thought was totally original, one of our beta readers read the first 100 pages and was like hey this is just like...CRAP. Oh well, all we can hope is that our book is different enough. We'd never intentionally steal another person's idea, but we also can't read every book ever written.

Leah said...

I read outside my current WIP's genre. So if I'm writing hardcore horror, I'll check out something from my YA reading list. If I'm writing fantasy, I lean more towards thrillers. You get the idea. I'm actually going to read more non-fiction from now on, too. This helps filter the potential for mimicking another author's style, voice, and so on. Side note: intentionally mimicking your favorite author's style, voice, etc. is a great [and fun] writing exercise. I learned it a few years ago in a creative writing class.

As far as whether I worry about my idea being original, no. There are original twists, but not truly, original ideas. Another reason I don't worry about it? I know I'm not plagiarizing. Period. Just because two stories are set in an amusement park doesn't mean either story is "derivative" or "unoriginal." I think every author brings a new perspective to an idea and I enjoy reading new twists on well-known ideas.

I think we get hung up on all of these labels and status issues when really all we need to be concerned with is telling a great story by writing it well.

Once my story is out of my head [and heart], revised and polished up, I did my duty as a writer. Now, if I want it published, I have to run the ball into the end zone BUT I don't have to take it personally if an agent or editor rejects my work on the grounds it is "unoriginal." Hell, if I get rejected based solely on that reason, I'm stoked. That means my writing technique is solid and I just have to poke my muse a bit harder until she coughs up something with a tad more originality. Take care!

P.S. Amy - I love the picture of your white kitty! The best cat I ever had was a fat, white diva named April. She was 13 when my mom gave her away. << insert mother issues here :) >>