it happens to me really often that i write a story and i’m like yes this is the one, i’ll make a book out of it! but then like a month later i’ll come across an already published book with fundamental similarities to my story! it’s super demotivating and i feel like my book could never get published because people will think i “stole the idea”! any advice?
As long as you’re not intentionally copying another book, don’t sweat it!
I’m not exaggerating when I say that hundreds of thousands of books are published every year. There’s no way you can have that many books without a lot of them having fundamental similarities. Just look at The Vampire Diaries, The Southern Vampire Mysteries, and the Twilight series. There are a lot of core similarities in these three series: a young woman falls in love with a mysterious vampire, gets sucked into a world of the supernatural, havoc ensues, friends become/turn out to be supernatural beings/creatures, protagonist also becomes/turns out to be supernatural being/creature. However, despite these similarities, these series aren’t actually that much alike, despite the many caps lock enraged fans who love to point the plagiarism finger at the authors of rival series. In reality, these three series have different plots, different sub-plots, different settings, different characters, different character arcs, different mythologies, and different themes. The differences vastly outweigh the similarities, and that’s what’s important.
The truth of the matter is, ideas and concepts can’t be copyrighted. If you take someone else’s idea and present it in a different way, it’s not plagiarism. For example, if you wanted to write a novel about a boy wizard who has to fight an evil overlord, you can do that. You just can’t present it the same way that J.K. Rowling did, just like J.K. Rowling didn’t present it the same way as writers who wrote about magical schools before her. The key is to have more differences than similarities. Slightly different isn’t enough. You want your story to be very different, even if the core ideas are similar.
So, truly, as long as you’re not shamelessly rehashing someone else’s idea, “stolen idea” accusations are baseless and should therefore be ignored. Write the stories you want to write, and if you’re already aware of a similar story out there, just put a different spin on yours and make it as different as possible. :)
Hello! I love your blog! I’ve literally just spent hours reading several of your incredibly helpful tips! I’m currently making a story (divided in multiple volumes, so basically a written TV Show) about a few college students capable of using magic in another dimension, but they have to keep it a secret from laymen. I also wanna put in a real world aspect in my story. So my question is: “How do I properly combine a real world aspect and the magic life aspect in my story”?
Thank you so much! I’m so glad you’re enjoying the blog. :)
Combining the real world and magical aspects of your story isn’t as hard as it might seem, so try not to over think it. Put yourself into the shoes of your characters: if you had magical skills, how would you hide them? What sorts of buffers between the two worlds would be most helpful? Many real world stories with magical elements have areas that are only known to magical people, such as Hogsmeade in the Harry Potter novels or London Below in Neverwhere. You’ll also want to think about how your characters will have one foot in each world at the same time. If you think about urban fantasies like Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, and Teen Wolf, there are characters who go to high school and are off fighting evil supernatural creatures before the buses even make it home. Imagine yourself in that scenario, and the different ways you might compartmentalize the aspects of your magical life from your “regular” life. There’s a good chance you’ll try to keep the two from crossing as much as possible. Or, you might go the route of stories like the Southern Vampire Mysteries or the House of Night series, where supernatural beings are just part of everyday life and everyone knows about them. This eliminates the need to keep up a buffer zone between the two worlds, but also presents a different set of complications, so you’ll have to think about which will work best for your story. :)
While reading my draft, my friend complimented me by ‘You write like Stephen King!’ I myself have never read him and even though I plan to, it got me thinking; what if people think I imitate someone’s style, or even worse, someone’s book? Let’s say I’d end up writing novel that is very similiar to something already done, not knowing that until someone tells me. I can hardly expect them to believe me I never read it, but I can’t read every book out there to make sure it was not done before…
I love this question!
This is a concern that many newer writers have, but as long as you’re not intentionally mimicking another author’s style or plagiarizing their work, there’s no need to be concerned.
First of all, with hundreds of thousands of books published every year the world over, it’s statistically impossible to write something that’s completely unique. The odds of writing something similar to an existing novel are quite high and it happens all the time. Take The Hunger Games, for example. The book was published in 2008 and centers around a group of teenagers randomly selected to fight to the death in an annually televised game staged by their dystopian government. However, almost ten years earlier in 1999, a book was released in Japan called Battle Royale. And what is it about? It’s about a group of teenagers who are randomly selected to fight to the death in a televised game staged by their dystopian government. But the thing is, Suzanne Collins had never even heard of Battle Royale before she wrote The Hunger Games. And, although there are numerous similarities between the two stories, the differences vastly outnumber them. The Southern Vampire Mysteries, The Vampire Diaries, and The Twilight series are another example of books that have a lot in common, but many more differences than similarities. It’s pointless to kvetch about who copied who or who was published first, because the fact of the matter is, you can’t copyright an idea. You can’t copyright the concept of a young woman falling in love with a vampire. And, the truth of the matter is, there are hundreds more novels out there about young women falling in love with vampires. What’s important is that the ideas aren’t presented in the same way.
So, honestly, don’t sweat it. Write what you want to write and don’t worry about your book being similar to another book. If you’re aware of similarities to another book, just present those similarities as differently as you can and you’ll be fine. If you’re not aware of other stories yours is similar to, the odds of you presenting multiple ideas in the exact same way is extremely unlikely. :)
Hello, I am a little paranoid about sharing my manuscript with a new critique partner and also fearful of discussing the entire story but I really do require someone to help me out. What do I do? x
Sharing our writing with others can be one of the hardest things we have to do as writers, but it’s a critical part of the writing process. It’s perfectly natural to be afraid, but it can help to understand why you’re afraid and whether or not it’s something worth worrying about. Here are common reasons why we are afraid of sharing our writing, whether or not they’re legitimate concerns, and what you can do to assuage your concerns a bit:
1) Fear of someone stealing your idea or story elements.
When you’ve put your heart and soul into a story, the last thing you want to risk is someone running off with your ideas. However, it’s important to remember that ideas can’t be copyrighted. Who knows at this point who was the first to come up with the idea of a human/vampire love story, but now they are everywhere, and most of them bear striking similarities to one another. To borrow from a recent post of mine, “Just look at The Vampire Diaries, The Southern Vampire Mysteries, and the Twilight series. There are a lot of core similarities in these three series: a young woman falls in love with a mysterious vampire, gets sucked into a world of the supernatural, havoc ensues, friends become/turn out to be supernatural beings/creatures, protagonist also becomes/turns out to be supernatural being/creature.” What’s important is that all three of these authors used these ideas in different ways. The differences outweigh the similarities by far. So, even on the off chance that your critique partner runs off with a few of your ideas, it’s not really that big of a deal. Anyway, it really doesn’t happen all that often, and just remember that they’re probably just as worried about you as you are about them. Don’t sweat it! Find someone who’s a good match and build up a trusting relationship with them. Once you get the process going you’ll feel a lot better about it.
2) Fear of plagiarism.
Plagiarism goes beyond someone stealing your idea for a plot or character name. Plagiarism is when they steal your idea and then present it in the exact same way that you did. For example, if you named your character “Mary Beth” and then they named a character “Mary Beth,” that’s not really a big deal. Anyone can name their character “Mary Beth.” But if your Mary Beth is a 23 year old deaf Black martial arts expert who is fluent in sixteen languages, has pink hair, and was born in Iceland–no one else can do that. If they do, it’s plagiarism. They also can’t use any part of your writing verbatim, because that’s also plagiarism. Is plagiarism a legitimate concern? Sort of. Plagiarism doesn’t occur very often. In fact, given the extensive volume of shared writing, it’s actually incredibly rare. Still, it does happen occasionally, and thankfully if it does, you’re not completely without recourse. Most of the time, simply calling someone out is enough to get them to back down. If not, and if they appear to have made a lot of money off your work, you could potentially file a lawsuit. Again, though, the odds of it getting that far are slim. The small risk of plagiarism is far outweighed by the benefit of sharing your work with a critique partner.
3) Fear of criticism.
A major reason why people are afraid to share their writing is that they’re afraid of getting negative feedback. This is certainly understandable but it’s not a legitimate concern. The fact of the matter is, getting feedback (both positive and negative) from other writers is a critical component of the writing process. Without it we’d just be writing inside our own little bubbles, completely unaware of what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong. More than that, negative feedback is something that we’ll be getting long after our work is finally published. Even the best, most talented writers in the world have their critics. Criticism is just something you have to learn to deal with as a writer. If you let fear of criticism stop you from sharing your work, you’re limiting your potential as an author.
4) What you can do to make sure you have a positive experience.
It’s important to understand that a critique partner isn’t a random person you find on the internet every time you’ve written a new story. Think of finding a critique partner like dating. You (hopefully) don’t just choose a random person off the internet and drive off to meet them for a midnight picnic at the abandoned cemetery. You choose a date because you have things in common with them, and then you get to know them a little bit, and take some precautions to make sure you’re safe with them until you know you can trust them. The same is true with critique partners. Once you find a potential critique partner, don’t just send off your manuscript and hope for the best. Strike up an e-mail friendship first. Get to know one each other. Ask questions, find out about their writing and editing styles. Talk to them about their writing experience and writing process, and just talk to them about life in general. The goal is to build up a little bit of a bond with them so that you can begin to trust one another. Then, start small. Maybe start by sharing an old piece of writing, or something you’re not concerned about, and ask them to do the same. Use it as a test session to see if you like the way you work together. If it’s a go, send them the first chapter of the manuscript rather than the whole thing. If that goes well, send them another chapter. Once you feel comfortable with them you can send them the whole thing. If someone doesn’t feel right to you, be honest but be nice. Let them know you’re incredibly thankful for the opportunity to work with them, but you’re not sure it’s the right fit. Then, keep looking until you find someone you feel really comfortable with.