writing post

One of This is Very Much Like the Other

For a writer, it’s easy to come across something similar to an idea we’ve had before. It’s always a shock, and if you’re like me, your immediate reaction might be: “OH MY GOD, NO. I CAN NEVER WRITE THIS AGAIN’. Because truth be told, not only there might be implications of plagiarism, but there are other issues involved – my book might be like popular book X, what if someone accuses me of copying the idea, my idea is exactly like that, writer Y’s execution of the idea is so much better than mine, etc. There are a bazillion ways a writer’s mind will jump to conclusions and the first reaction is to put our own idea down. KILL IT BEFORE SOMEONE SEES.

Please, I’m begging you, don’t do that.

First of all, because something I learned the hard way was – only I can tell this story. You may pick up a story, give the same elements to different people and all of it is going to come out a different way. Similarities? Sure. But for one, different writers could write different Star Wars for example. Give them the same elements – a villain with a mask, a young boy, a princess and a thug in space, and watch as the events unfold. One of the versions (probably the one by George Lucas) would come out exactly like Star Wars (because it is Star Wars) – but there could be a hundred thousand other versions of this. In one, Leia might turn out to be the hero. Or Luke turns to the Dark Side and it’s up to his best friends to turn him back. Maybe planets don’t explode and maybe Han doesn’t get carbonized and handed to Jabba. Who knows, right?

Because essencially, no person can write a story exactly like the other. It’s impossible. What you, as a person and a writer, have to offer is completely unique. No other person can write a story like yours, no matter what your idea looks like. The nowadays popular retellings are a proof of that – I’ve read at least five retelings of Beauty and the Beast, and each one is different. But guess what? They’re telling the same story – but they’re not. You get the point, right? Some of them were good, some of them were not. Some of them were funny and some of them were dark. Some of them were romantic and others weren’t. That’s how stories work.

Personally, I’ve had this experience a couple of times. Every time an author announces an idea that sounds so much like one I had, I shudder. I want to throw everything away – but I don’t. Because it’s hardly possible that even if we had the same idea, it’s not going to turn out the same. It’s not the same book. With my first WIP, I was working really hard on a story that sounds similar to X-Men. Sure, I did pitch it to everyone as “X-Men”, but having compared it to X-Men (a comic and a movie) it didn’t sound bad. But as soon as I saw a pitch for another brazilian book being published that year… I almost fell face hard. Because our ideas were exactly the same – we had a girl main character struggling with her powers and that might be used by other people.

I admit that I totally panicked – but then, just to make sure, half-defeated, I bought the book and read it. Ang guess what? Our book was nothing alike. They had some similarities, sure, but it was nothing to worry about – our plot was different, our main characters were completely different, and even the worldbuilding was different. And then I relaxed. And I started seeing this over and over again – someone launching a book about pirates, my current WIP Firebird, set in Russia could be compared to other YAs out there. I just learned to relax – and be sure that my story was nothing like theirs.

So my advice is – calm down, breathe and relax. Nothing is going to happen. There are not new stories created in the world – I’m sorry, but you’re not the genius who’s going to break this rule. Not me, not you, not anyone. We have been telling the same stories over and over again, and we still enjoy them – what you have to do is keep some fresh eyes, and be confident. No one can write your story like you can.

And if you’re still worried, I’ve got a little trick for you. Make a list. List things similar to your novel and this novel you’re comparing. And if you think the similarities are too much, change some of them. See what you can keep, throw out the rest. Begin anew. But there’s no reason to throw your story away.


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