Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Where Am I?

Alex Cavanaugh, the guy who happens to be everywhere, has recently started the Insecure Writer's Support Group. It's a group created for folks just like me, that is, folks who are a wee bit insecure about what they're doing with this whole 'writing' thing. So far, I think something like a million people have signed up. Please follow the link above to read stories from all the fragile writer's out there.

Sigh. So many writers, and I count myself among them, have this fragile confidence about what they are doing and how they are doing it. And what the final product looks like. In fact, if I were to use myself as a guide, I'd say that the internal debate I have is often whether or not I should just quit.

But I'll be thinking that while I'm writing away. So I'm not sure it matters.

Imagine you spend months, er, years, working on a single book, having it finished, then scrapping it, starting over, finishing it, then editing it half a dozen times, realizing that there is a major plot hole, rewriting again. And again. And again. Well, I did all of those things, partially because the novel I'm discussing was my first novel I ever wrote, and it needed a bunch of work to make it readable.

Now, what happens when you, after the better part of a decade of constant reworking your manuscript,  pick up a book and find out it is so similar to yours that it might make yours deemed a rip off should it ever see the light of day?

Cause I read a book last week that was sorta that way for me. It, well, it gave me a bit of weird feeling. I kinda reviewed it here and didn't get into any of why it gave me a such an icky feeling. Mostly because that feeling I got had nothing to do with the book itself, but instead of what it reminded me of.

It reminded me of my unpublished novel... a lot. After reading it I got this sinking feeling that if my book ever gets published folks who have read them both might think I was copying plot elements straight over. I figured I could do a quick checklist to see if I'm right.

Present/near future? Check
NASA centric? Check
Hastily thrown together mission to NEO (near earth object)? Check
NEO is Alien artifact? Check.
Astronauts explore artifact? Check
Misguided Astronauts sabotage mission? Check
Folks get stranded on NEO? Check

I could keep going here. There are other similarities that are apparent to me, but those get deeper into the plot twists area that I'd rather not get into now. Now, there are differences, the book I read was a multi-veiwpoint thrid person and mine is a first person narrative. There's is a pretty big difference in main characters. In fact, lots of that sort of stuff is very different. In fact, when I look at character arcs, the stories aren't alike at all.

But it got me thinking about how many similarities two works can have before people start crying foul. I'm reading a book now that is clearly a retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo, I read a book last year that was clearly a retelling of Shakespeare's, Hamlet. Folks generally think doing that is brilliant. But there the characters are essentially the same and the settings are changed. What my story has is the same setting, but with different characters.

Is there a difference? Is one more acceptable than the other? I don't know. I do know that science fiction is a genre that has lots and lots of stories that are similar to one another.

All I can do, I guess, in the end, is to  let other people tell me if I'm ripping someone else off.

But that won't stop me from worrying about it.


28 comments:

KarenG said...

I wouldn't worry about the rip-off factor. It's how someone writes, the voice, character development, writing style that sets a book apart. If all one looks at is plot, (or if that's all there is to look at in a book) then it's a pretty thinly written piece of work.

E. Arroyo said...

Thanks for sharing this. One could argue there are no new plots. For me, it is the characters that make the difference. I guess it's writing your story that needs to be told. You are your first audience. Good luck!

Cindy said...

Artists will tell you that it's important to be unique, but a lot of times readers want more the of same. Look how many times they remade Batman and other movies. Then it sells.

So don't worry about it.

Deborah Walker said...

Well, that's a kick in the teeth. I think KarenG is right, your voice, your characters will make the story different, if you decide to resurrect.

I guess working in a genre with certain tropes, we got to be aware of this. Yikes. I'm just thinking about my latest. Memory loss, that's a pretty widely used trope too.

Hart Johnson said...

Oh, man--It is so hard, isn't it? I think there are ideas out there that feed a lot of people at once and the chance of multiple writers hitting similar things at the same time is just so likely. And sure, there are successes with people retelling classics, but I think it's far more original to have really different CHARACTERS--you can't fake that part--that is the YOU of it. I think the trick is to hit an idea or two that are truly one of a kind and then you have a name to sell, so when those ideas happen to lots of people at once YOU are the one who gets out there first. My next book (currently plotting) has a 'talking to the dead' component for young adult... It was already planned when I saw TWO (not one) of the ABNA YA finalists included MCs who could talk to the dead... *rolls eyes* I still believe the bigger story I have is really original, but the idea is just OUT THERE. We just have to tell it more LIKE US than anybody else, and it will be original.

Rogue Mutt said...

You're on the right track. No one really wants "new" ideas. They just want the same old ideas repackaged.

Tonja said...

That would really eat at me too. But a finished novel is a huge accomplishment. Even if some aspects are the same, maybe it's different enough to stand out.

Matthew MacNish said...

Wow. That is a lot of very specific similarities. That kind of sucks, but I bet your story is still unique. Sometimes it's not about what happens, but how the story is told.

Will Burke said...

Oooh, I got a vicarious sick feeling for you. My favorite Podcast, "I Should Be Writing" addressed this in their recent Feedback show; it may help.

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

I think the differences in POV and characters will make your story your own. As others have said, there are a limited number of plots and tropes (I could spend hours browsing TVtropes.com), but it's the author's style and perspective that make each story unique.

Kid Shuffle said...

Yeah if you do a similar story, I don't think many people will care. I mean, Pride, Prejudice and Zombies was huge...and thats one of the worst concepts I've ever heard of.

Patricia Lynne said...

I think if every writer looked, they'd find a book that was too close to comfort like the one they wrote. You can't let that get to you, remember it's your own work, you were inspired to write it and to hell with someone having a similar story. It's still your story. =P

Heather M. Gardner said...

So many comments above mine are saying the same thing. It's all about the characters. You could tweak places and times but your characters will pull you through. Trust in them.
Good luck and thanks for sharing with us.
HMG

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Don't worry about it because YOUR story rocked! It was fresh to me and will be to anyone who's never read the other book. And even if they have, it's your first person POV that really sells the story. Stick with it!

Siv Maria said...

Guess with so many writers the same idea is bound to pop up in other books. I bet anything someone else did Harry Potter before J.K.Rowlings....Point? It is not the story, but how it is written. Good luck with your writing and do not give up :)

The Golden Eagle said...

I wrote a post on something similar to this; but it didn't happen on the kind of scale you seem to be describing. I'd agree with the other commenters, though; it's the voice and characters that support a story, not its similarity to other novels.

Michael Offutt said...

Insecurity plagues us all. And by the way, Terry Brooks completely ripped off J.R.R. Tolkien and it didn't matter one whit to his audience. As a matter of fact...I read some of his books. And I know he ripped off Tolkien. Meh...who cares?

julie fedderson said...

I read for the characters--most plots are essentially the same when boiled down to their bare bones. There's so many similar stories, but what makes a book good to me is the detail, the subtle nuances. I read mostly romance, and in the end the guy gets the girl and good saves the day--duh. But it's how they get there that's the brilliant part.

Andrew said...

When it comes down to it, there are only three stories. Everything else is a variation. Shakespeare isn't even original. Everything he did had some other source. It was the way he told the -same- story that has made him a cornerstone of literature. Besides, you know you didn't rip these other guys off, because your story was already there before you read theirs.
Heck, Armageddon, which has a sort of similar storyline to yours (without the Earth collision factor (I'm assuming)) was ripped off of Deep Impact.
I wouldn't give it another thought.

Nicki Elson said...

You're probably hyper-aware of it because you're so close. I'll bet an objective reader might note similarities---just like there are similaries among all sci-fi, vampire, romance, whatever novels. Shake it off and carry on. I'll bet every writer has felt this. I know I never noticed so many frickin' angel stories out there until I started writing one. *hmphf*

Susan Gourley said...

I think it's only human for your creative mind to connect all kind of things without conscious thought. It's not cheating.

Lynda R Young said...

It is a difficult thing, worrying about originality. I don't think it's as big a problem as we often think unless we are trying to copy someone's style. Naturally we put ourselves into our writing which makes the stories unique.

Rusty Webb said...

I had intended on doing the personalized message thing but, damn. I'm overwhelmed. I appreciate so many folks stopping by to help with my insecurities. So thank you all.

Ella said...

I think there is always the potential to be similar. If you story is unique then your voice will be heard. It is a balancing act, but one worth performing!

Caledonia Lass said...

You know... I've come across this problem before myself. Difference is, I've just had ideas and found books already out there. But here's the thing, everyone sees and feels everything so differently to begin with, that while your story might be similar, it is still YOUR story. No one could tell it like you. Go for it til they cry foul!
I'm a new follower by the way. Nice to meet you, I have heard about you on Alex's blog. :D A little late to the party, but better than not at all.

Wendy Tyler Ryan said...

I wouldn't sweat over it. There are no new ideas under the sun! Just write the best book you can with your voice. I see movies all the time and get dejavu because a scene is similar to something I've written. If you didn't read the book first and the ideas came from your own imagination, then you haven't copied anyone, have you?

M Pax said...

I relate to the reworking of the first novel. I finally shelved mine and am moving on. I'll get back to it one day. I know what it needs.

Keep writing. Hope your novelette is doing well. I will add it to my tbr list. :)

And as Wendy said, I wouldn't sweat it either. Everything has already be done. The only thing unique is how we tell it.

Kim Mullican said...

In music it's called sampling. Take a deep breath and get your work out there ;)