Monday, July 29, 2019

Nothing New Under the Sun

Once upon a time, I took a theater class.  My professor said something I haven't forgotten.  There's nothing new under the sun.  Yeah, not exactly ground breaking, but it stuck with me.  He also said there are a limited number of plots out there and each writer has to adapt their story around one of them.  

Years ago, I had two writer friends.  One of them shared an idea with me that I thought was pretty cool.  It was in its infancy and she had a lot of other irons in the fire, so it wasn't on her front burners.  Meanwhile, the other published a book with a really similar premise.  Time passed and the first friend edited her book and got it published.  And there was a shitstorm.  The fan base of Writer #2 accused Writer #1 of stealing the idea.  They didn't even know each other and I can state with absolute certainty no one was stealing anything.  (As if one can 'steal' ideas anyway.)  Writer #1 had the idea before Writer #2's book was even published.  But the shitstorm was of such a virulent strain that Writer #1 unpublished her book.

Which was too bad because her delivery of the concept was way better than Writer #2's.  Sorry.  Just being honest there.  :shrug:  And since then, I have picked up at least two other books with eerily similar premises.  It might've been a new take on an old premise in 2000s, but it sure ain't new now.

Recently, I picked up a book to read.  I thought it was a straight cozy mystery, but it turned out to be  a paranormal mystery.  And I stopped dead in my tracks when I got to the part that was too similar to Ugly and the Beast (i.e. when the talking cat came on scene).  UatB is already written, so no worries about 'stealing ideas', but even the perception of it scares me.  I don't need a shitstorm visiting me.  Not that it isn't still possible some readers of that book will accuse me of 'stealing ideas' from her.  Not a damn thing I can do about that should it happen.  I know I won't be crawling into a hole if it does.  I can prove I didn't steal a damn thing.  (Then again, Writer #1 had proof, too.  She simply opted not to fight.)

In the past month, I've seen two different 'similar to Harry Potter' series hit the stores.  I read the first book in another one last year.

There's nothing new under the sun, folks.

But don't despair.  So what if you have an idea and it's kind of like another book?  Are you making it different?  Of course you are, because each of us brings our own experiences to the books we write.  Unless you're copying the book word for word, it's not stealing.  (Okay, if you copy it and only change a few things - like names and stuff - it's probably still stealing.)  If you learn about it before your book is published and you can make reasonable changes, do so if it makes you feel better.  Sorry - the talking cat is staying.  It doesn't make sense if Oliver is any other animal.  And I already paid for the cover with a cat on it.  I don't want to pay extra to have the cat removed, thank you very much.

What I do need to do is make sure Oliver's voice is unique to him.  A little extra editing should fix that.  (It was already in my notes to fix that, so no biggie.)

With all the books being written today, odds are you're going to be writing something that is similar to someone else's ideas.  Not much any of us can do about that.  How many different stories can be directly tied to something Shakespeare wrote - even if you discount the stories that actually SAY they're based on Romeo and Juliet or The Taming of the Shrew?

Do the best you can to make your stories unique to you.  And weather the storm as best you can.

Oh, and as a side note, the other day I saw a book being marketed that's premise is an awful lot like Writer #1's popular multi-book series.  Shit happens.  I just hope Writer #1's fan base isn't as vicious about it as Writer #2's was.

(To maintain the authors' anonymity, I've tried to make this as vague as possible in relation to them.) 


  1. Oh gosh, what a mess. You're right...there are only so many ideas out there. It's the execution of them that makes them different.

  2. Uhm...Salem from the Sabrina the Teenage Witch series. That other author and her fans need to suck it up if they give you any grief. Just let me know. I'll respond to their criticism. 😁

    I don't remember the book now, or where I saw it, but there's either a new release or one coming with the H/h named Chance and Cassidy. Hrmmm... Interesting that those two particular names are linked. Whatever. I guess I should have noted the book so I could check for plagerism.

    My NY editor did a panel at RWA on writing twists. He pointed out that there are a limited number of writing tropes, no matter the genre. The point of the panel was learning how to add an author's own twists to the trope to make it fresh. Talking cat? Give him a personality trait that is distinctly dog-like. (Not saying do this, just using Oliver as an examble.) Or make him like Yoda. Better yet, like Darth Vader. 😂

    I don't get rabid fandoms, personally. Of course, I don't have one so... Anyway, let the haters hate and just get on with the business of writing. I'm sorry for Author #1. I wish she'd stood her ground, but it sounds like she's gone on to other successes so more power to her.

    Okay. Only 150 more blogs, etc. in my newsfeed to get through. Then lunch and writing. Later, tater!

  3. Talking cats aren't anybody's "property." Everybody who's lived with a cat knows they can talk! :-)

    Even Helen Keller was beaten up over a story that was similar to someone else's. Troll just like to hurt everyone they can. (Caveat: she admitted she might have heard that story as a tiny child, before she went deaf.)

    I feel sorry for the writer who caved.