Friday, March 27, 2009

Accidental Copy Catting

I possess the trait I think many writers out there have wherein the ideas that inspire me enough to actually sit down and put something on paper come from the ether. Maybe a scenario or experience will spark an idea - the other day I saw two surveyors measuring and marking the street for some thing or another and thought that this might be an interesting profession to explore for a female in a male-dominated industry - and things blossom off of that original seed.

But for the most part, I get an idea from either a particular character that comes to mind fully-formed, or because there is some emotion or relationship or scenario that I want to explore. Sometimes it's a plot - what would happen if this happened or that - that inspires me. But usually my inspiration is character driven.

Rarely, I'll read a story and like the general premise but think I would have done it differently. When this kind of story inspiration strikes, I tend to ignore it other than running a few scenes through my head when I'm sitting in traffic. I worry too much about copying someone else to ever go down that road.

Which is why I'm kind of freaked right now. I've been working for quite a while on a particular story, and I'm fully in love with the characters. I've plotted things out, written many many words, and it's been the one idea that I've consistently turned to when other ideas claw their way upward vying for attention. I'm determined to finish this.

Except, in the past two days I've come across both a book series and a TV show (not based on the book - completely different) that contain elements that are uncomfortably close to my grand opus. I have neither read the book series in question nor ever watched an episode of the TV program. I swear on a stack of bibles a yard high that it is 100% coincidence that my ideas run so close to what has already been produced.

But, damn! How did this happen? How did I come up with the same thoughts as those who took it further and produced something with those ideas? Am I really that completely unoriginal? Are my "pulled from the ether" ideas really that cliché? Am I being subconsciously influenced even by pop culture that I've never directly encountered?

To say I'm discouraged is an understatement. I know that there really is no such thing as a new idea. It has all been done before. And I fully buy into the rhetoric that it's not the idea that makes something worthwhile but rather how you put your own, unique spin on it that counts. Two people can turn out completely different results when given the same basic ingredients. If this weren't the case, humankind would have long ago stopped bothering to write, paint, sing, dance or otherwise express themselves creatively because, hey, been there, seen that.

I guess I'm faced with the question of where the line is between "same basic premise, unique execution" and "same basic premise, very similar execution". How many details must be the same for it to skirt way too close to copying for comfort? And if a writer honestly - honestly - was not in any way influenced by the original by virtue of honestly - HONESTLY - not even knowing what the original was about, is it okay to stay the course?

I refuse to give up on my work. First, I've put too much time and energy into it to abandon it. Secondly, I really do love my characters. The idea of not telling their stories simply because they sounds eerily like someone else's story (either in basic structure or because of a few similar details) makes me slightly nauseated. In the end, if my eyes are the only ones that ever bear witness to what I've created, I'm even okay with that.

Sort of. Because I'm of the philosophy that writing for ones' own personal enjoyment is a great hobby, but if you have no intention of every sharing your story, why not just keep it in your head?

Perhaps my solution should be to cut myself off from all media. Currently I never, ever read any book if it even slightly resembles something I have cooking in my own mind. I don't want to ever be influenced - consciously or not - by someone else's interpretation. But clearly I am being influenced somehow.



Tami said...

I couldn't agree more.

And what really hurts (because it's my own fault!) is when I have an idea that is relatively unique at the time, and I DON'T write it - I put it off, say I'll do it later, etc - and now it's so overdone that readers scoff at the very concept.

If only I'd jumped on it THEN!

Lynn M said...

No kidding! So many times I'll be reading a book review or interview with an author and he/she will have included some little bit I have in one of my stories (or in my brain waiting to be put into a story) and I'll want to scream. I don't know if I should worry that my computer's hard drive has been hacked (yeah, like someone would steal my ideas) or if I'm simply that unoriginal. It's insanely frustrating.