February 8, 2012

RTW: Smudgy New Idea

Road Trip Wednesday is a 'Blog Carnival' where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic:
  
This week's topic

What SNI* were you psyched to work on, but discovered it was too close to something already done? 

So far (fingers crossed) this hasn't been too big of an issue, but there have been some close calls. Too close for comfort moments where I had to evaluate whether I wanted to proceed with this slightly smudgy new idea. This has been the case a time or two with both of my WiPs, but it hasn't stopped me from proceeding with my ideas. Why? Because any similarities are remote enough that I, as the writer, will probably be the only one to catch them, or because the similarity is intentional (ie. a retelling of a well-known classic).

WiP #1: YA Science Fiction
Even though the idea wasn't completely unique, it felt like it really hadn't been done in YA yet. And then Terra Nova aired on TV and I was seeing some minor similarities to my WiP that were a touch disconcerting. Now that a little time has passed, and I've continued to watch the show, I realize that these similarities are negligible and that I am likely the only one who will notice. The premise and setting for my story is entirely different anyway and was inspired by a newspaper article I read while killing time in an airport.

I've read a couple YA books that had things in them that made me squirm a little in how close they came to what I've been working on. Beth Revis' Across the Universe and A Million Suns made me a bit uneasy, but I'm over it now. Stories set in space, with a slight dystopian bent, geared to a YA market are going to have some similarities. Not to mention we have a lot of the same influences (shout out to Ender's Game, Firefly, and Battlestar!). Not to mention, some of the things I've included in my story can be chalked up to personal experience. A polygraph-type scenario may have been done to some extent already, but since I'm writing this from personal experience (4 hours in the polygraph chair for employment with the police) I always have that to fall back on. So, I'm choosing not to worry about it.

WiP #2: Contemporary YA Romance (Is that what you'd call it? Not even sure.)
A modern-day YA spin on a less popular Jane Austen novel (ie. not Pride and Prejudice because that's definitely been done). Surprisingly, this story really hasn't been retold for a YA audience yet. I've seen it in the adult fiction market, but so far I'm in the clear. When I first saw that others had tackled this (even though they were adult) I had moments of self-doubt. I thought this new idea was just so shiny that there's no way anybody else had done it, and if they had I certainly didn't know about it (Duh! Like there's a single Jane Austen story that hasn't been retold). The thing about retellings is that they're all going to be purposely similar to the source text, but will likely differ from one another in their final product. It does still make me nervous so I just need to get that sucker out there before someone else does.

Story ideas, themes, and motifs have been more or less recycled, revamped, and respun (I made that word up) for ages now***. Look what J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy spawned and its marked influence on the fantasy genre. There are really no new ideas. There are new spins on those ideas, but as the picture/quote above suggests, "there is nothing new under the sun"**. And to quote the Barenaked Ladies (as annoying as the song is): "It's all been done before." It's the personal touch that each and every one of us puts on those ideas that make them unique. 

What do you do when you encounter too-close-for-comfort similarities to your ideas?
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*SNI = Shiny New Idea
** "That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun." Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NASB)
***Fairy and folk tales are a prime example of this. So much so, that they even have a motif classification system by Aarne-Thompson that breaks these tales down into their similar elements. We learned all about this in university and it left a pretty strong impression on me.


32 comments:

  1. Oh, absolutely... it's all about creating a new refreshing spin on things... that's what we authors are here for. Gosh, I love vampires and how many different vamp series have I read??? A TON!!!!! But what makes it okay is that each different world is unique in its own way. Write what you want and never be afraid to tackle something that's been done, because in the way that you'll write it, it'll be all sparkly and new :D Great post!

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement :-) I totally agree with you on this. When I read something I like I go on a frantic hunt for more of the same. I totally did that with DIVERGENT and with ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS. I wanted more and I wanted it now! Even fairy tales have many of the same ideas/motifs just thrown together in a 'new' stew of events. :-)

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  2. Great post! I love your quote from the Bible there at the end. You know, one of my favorite Austin novels is Persuasion. That one would make a really interesting retelling.

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    1. Yes, I like that verse too. And as for the latter part of the comment: Hmmm...no comment :-)

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  3. Great post! I'm glad to see you're continuing on with WIP 1 regardless, it sounds like your love your story. :)

    I feel your pain on the dystopian genre being over-saturated. I'm working on a sci-fi story set after a major natural disaster, and I'm terrified it'll be lumped into dystopian when the focus is more on plain ol' action and adventure. But I love it too much to leave it, so I'm working on it nonetheless. :D

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    1. Good for you for sticking with it! If it's the story you want to tell, do your best to make it happen :-) Dystopian may be 'on it's way out' but I still love it like crazy. Heck, there are still tons of people who love vampires even though it's totally 'over' now. I guess we'll never know whether it'll be sellable unless we try, right? :-)

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  4. Great post Jaime :D
    And can I just say again: your WIPs sound very interesting!
    I might steal your word "respun" in the near future :-)

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    1. Thanks, Elodie :-) I hope they're interesting at least. And you may totally use respun. Let's make it happen!

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  5. I like the word 'respun'. This is true. Everyone gleans their ideas and inspiration from similar sources if you're talking genre. Like fantasy writers might take from McCaffrey, Lackey or Cherryh. And everyone, like you mentioned, has learned from Tolkien.

    I've had an experience similar to this, but mine was with a character, not a story. A villain I created in high school bore a striking resemblance to a character created by Neil Gaiman some ten years earlier!

    Glad you haven't had too bad of an experience with this type of thing. And really, once you rework something to fit your own writing style, it has already taken on a new identity. It becomes yours.

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    1. I like the idea of nods to your influences. I know Beth Revis did this in her Across the Universe, books. To me, that acknowledges your influences and to some extent lessens the chance that you'll be accused of being 'too similar'. I agree with you about work taking on a new identity and becoming yours. We all come from a unique set of circumstances with our own experiences and way of viewing things. How could we possibly spew out something that is identical to someone else's work? :-)

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  6. I love the term Smudgy New Idea! Genius. I've been lucky, and this hasn't happened to me (yet). Other than one film that was uncomfortably close to an idea. Not a fun viewing experience.

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    1. Why thank you. It's a Shiny New Idea that's a little less shiny :-) Isn't that the worst feeling when something grazes your story like that?

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  7. I'm totally stealing the term Smudgy New Idea! Perfect way to describe it. If I find something too similar to my work, I take a day, sleep on it, and then come back to the manuscript. I can either see that there is enough difference or that there is something I can do to make my story unique.

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    1. I think you've hit on something pretty important -- time and distance. It's the same with revising. Sometimes we feel entirely different about something once we've stepped away from it, or in this case, once the initial shock has worn off.

      And feel free to make 'Smudgy New Idea' a thing :-)

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  8. Are you talking about PERSUASION? Haha... this was one of my SNI at one point. A YA adaptation of PERSUASION. I haven't written it or anything, but I think that the concepts and themes are so applicable to the YA experience. Love, regret, persuasion. It's really an adaptation that could be done in so many different ways though, so I wouldn't even worry if there was a YA adaptation that did come out between now and when you finished.

    This comment is completely useless if you're thinking of Northanger Abbey or something, lol.

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    1. Nailed it :-) No big surprise, I guess. It definitely has so much to offer to a modern day YA audience, particularly in the area of persuasion (aka peer pressure, importance of appearances, etc.). I love the story and love how much it resonates with me.

      Ha ha! Can you imagine trying to revamp Northanger Abbey for a modern audience? Bizarre.

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  9. Oooh, a YA sci-fi like but not like Terra Nova? I kind of want to read that right now.

    I haven't seen a book that was so much like mine that I had to give up the idea, but I've had this idea for a sci-fi set in a dystopian future society and when I started hearing that the market was over-saturated with dystopians I did have a minor stroke. I'm still pursuing it and hoping that agents/editors won't be too sick of dystopian societies by the time it's done. :)

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    1. I don't get that over-saturation issue. I *love* dystopians so I'm hoping they don't die out any time soon. I suppose I understand it a bit, especially when I think about vampires. I'm sick of anything vampire-related, so I guess I get maybe why some people are saying the same about dystopians. Definitely keep writing it, though. You'd for sure have a reader in me! :-)

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  10. I actually love vampires, but the Vampire Diaries and Twitlight have spoiled them for me. I prefer them soulless and tortured.

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    1. Yeah there's a pretty big range of styles for vampire stories. And if you're not into the sparkly kind, there's almost certainly something else for you. :-)

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  11. I think you're in the clear on both WIP. They sound interesting! And I've love to read a post about your polygraph experience. I'm fascinated by the idea that some people can beat them. Also, I'm pretty sure I'd be so nervous that I'd look I was lying about my own name! Maybe people who are in LE, etc. get used to it over time? But between sociopaths and the anxious (and who wouldn't be anxious to be questioned about a crime?), it seems like polygraphs wouldn't be that useful very often.

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    1. I'd love to write a post on my polygraph experience but I don't think all that many people would find it interesting :-) Also, I'm not sure if I can actually get in trouble for that or not. Hmmm...we'll have to see :-) It's actually not all that bad but horribly exhausting because your brain does somersaults trying to unload every possible thing that might be considered 'bad'. I don't think I've ever felt so drained in my whole life.

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  12. "It's the personal touch that each and every one of us puts on those ideas that make them unique. "

    Agreed. That's why I can't nor won't stress about this. Similarities are inevitable. The trick is to make the similarities different. :)

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    1. Exactly! We all bring entirely different circumstances and experiences to the table that, like it or not, completely colour our writing. And because of that, no two stories will be all that much alike :-)

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  13. I have had a few anxiety attacks when I thought a work was close to mine, but I have two writing friends that ran into stories that were so similar that it was a genuine issue. One had a YA TV show up with very similar powers in the MC, and the other was a very well known graphic novelist doing one with the same trope in the same setting. But they've decided to continue anyway, and let their characters and plots speak for themselves. That's really all you can do; if you give up, I think you'd always wonder.

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    1. You're so right. You'd always wonder 'what if' with your story. It certainly freaks you out thinking that somebody will get their idea published before you do. Gives you a real sense of urgency :-)

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  14. Four hours in a polygraph chair?! Wow, that must have been either very nerve racking, or extremely tedious!

    I agree with you wholeheartedly on the importance of your spin on the idea, not of the uniqueness of the idea itself.

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    1. Yes, and yes. Both nerve-racking and tedious. Your brain is scrambling trying to come up with any little thing that might be considered 'bad'. Because it draws on a part of your brain that is largely unconscious it can pick up on things you didn't necessarily even know you were hiding. Or at least that's what they tell you, and believe me it's enough to freak the heck out of you. And I have nothing to hide either. I'm pretty squeaky clean, but they have a way of making you feel sooooo guilty. It's exhausting.

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  15. A big YES to Firefly! This is a great post. I agree with a lot of what you're saying. We're the ones who notice the similarities when we write, and thats' because of our influences. But as long as we're telling a unique story, I think we're okay.

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    1. I think we definitely are our own worst critics and we get twitchy about the smallest things like similarities to other works that nobody else would even notice :-)

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  16. I'd say Firefly-esque books in YA wouldn't be a bad thing. I'd be first in line for the book.

    It's got to a time where nothing is original in a way. We have similar stories being told, inspired from the same folklore or fairytales with characters who are usually seen with the same label. The girl next door heroine, the broody misunderstood bad boy, the geeky and comic best friend, wise old man etc. But you still need to find an edge to the idea to make it different. Twist it around and tell it in a new light. Always go for it! I mean, Angela Carter even wrote two different takes on the story of Beauty and The Beast for the same book.

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    1. I think we may be headed for a time where different types of stories are paired in unique and unexpected ways. It makes me think of Marissa Meyer's CINDER. Who would have ever imagined that the Cinderella fairy tale could work so well in a futuristic setting where our heroine is a kickass cyborg? If this is the case, I look forward to some of these new pairings :-)

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