To my slight dismay, I found my main character name used in another series of books. Since it was a completely different genre, and a supporting character at that, I chalked it up to a minor annoyance, but not a show stopper.
But then I sat up and took notice, realizing I'd uncovered bigger potatoes than the shared name.
|Evil plot clones may, or may not have facial hair.|
As I read more, I realized this book shared some pretty significant plot elements with a manuscript I’d just finished beta reading for a friend. And when I say significant, I mean the core-premise-of-the-story significant. AND the book was in her genre. An evil plot clone!
When told her what I’d found, I got a reply that I won’t repeat here on the prime time Internet. Suffice it to say, it was in all caps.
Whether or not she ends up considering this a big enough deal to rework anything of her story remains to be seen. But as I thought about it, maybe this mountain is really more of a mow hill. A teeth-grinding, blood pressure-raising mow hill, to be sure, but a still mow hill.
During the months it took me to finish my last novel, more than once I had the same kind of sick feeling. I’d be reading a book or sitting in the theater, when there it was – one of MY story ideas – playing out before my eyes in someone else’s work like a punch in the gut. I remember this happening when I saw Sherlock Holmes, Avatar and Limitless. And during re-watches of older stuff like Blade Runner and Minority Report.
As the list grew, I got more and more frustrated. But then I realized that taken together, the same list gave me just as much cause to relax. Sherlock Holmes and Limitless? Really? Do they share elements with each other (and with my story)? Yep.
|Okay, so the posters are kinda similar. But the movies aren't.|
Why? Because when it comes to originality, the idea can often be less important than its execution.
In support of this assertion, I offer the following list of movies that seem ripped right from the same pitch sheet. Released at nearly the same time as their counterparts, each found varied measures of success or failure. Not based on plot elements they did or didn’t share, but on their own merits.
|Deep Impact. What it lacked in the Liv Tyler department, it made up in heart-wrenching self sacrifice.|
When it comes to originality, there’s a fine line between innovation and duplication. It’s always good to know what’s out there so you don’t end up feeling derivative. And it's important to strive for original ideas.
But complete originality just isn't going to be possible 100% of the time. And with the myriad tropes common to every genre, as long as you can tell a great story with them, I think you’re on pretty solid ground.