This week in my What’s Up Wednesday post I talked about reading a book that felt eerily similar to my own WiP. I received a lot of wonderful encouragement from everyone—thank you!—but it really got me thinking more about this notion of similarity between already published works and our manuscripts. How similar is too similar? At what point do we pack it up and move on?
While it is (mostly) true that there are really no new ideas, just new spins on those ideas, there are some things to consider:
1. An increasingly difficult market to break into.
If you have a good look around—Publisher’s Weekly, agent sites, MSWLs—you’ll probably notice that less and less YA is actually being requested. It gets exponentially worse when you’re a sci-fi writer trying to pitch a YA sci-fi story. Unless your story idea is totally original and your writing absolutely top notch, it’s my understanding that it’s really hard to catch agents’ and publishers’ attention. (I could be way off base here, but I don’t think I am.) That means bringing something anything less than unique to the table is kind of a waste of everyone’s time. Who wants to waste people's time? I sure don’t.
2. Personal pride.
Yep, pride. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to be a poor man’s Hunger Games. (That’s just the example I’m using, so bear with me.) Sure, there will always be stories that are reminiscent of others in big or small ways, but don’t you want to put out something you feel only you can write? I know two people will come up with a similar premise and write two entirely different stories, but don’t we all want to feel like our story is original to us? I guess it would always bother me that someone else got to the idea first, and I would always wonder if his/her take on it was better than mine was. It may be a touch insecure, but there it is.
3. There’s similar and then there’s SIMILAR.
I’m not going to pick on any stories here, but I’m sure we can all think of at least a few examples of stories with similar premises. I could write a story with a FMC who is selected to fight to the death in some sort of arena without being slammed too hard with Hunger Games comparisons. But what if I wrote a story about an orphaned boy wizard raised among non-magic folk who finds out he’s a wizard and is whisked off to a Wizarding school, forced to face the big baddie of the story time and time again? Um…I think we’d all mostly agree that this treads a little too far into Harry Potter territory. There’s similar and then there’s too similar.
|Mirror images: Great by Rockwell.|
Not so much between two stories.
I guess the question you have to ask yourself--the question I’ve been asking myself--is this: How much do you love your story? Will it break your heart to set it aside and move on temporarily or even permanently? If the answer is yes, you love it beyond all reason, then keep plugging away at the thing. But if your answer is anything less than a resounding YES, maybe take it as a cue to embrace new ideas and chalk it all up to a learning experience.* I think that’s what I’ve decided to do. I’m pretty sure it was Veronica Roth (post-Divergent) who pointed out the importance of loving your story to the moon and back again, because you will be spending a lot of time with it if you’re fortunate enough to be published. Like, a lot. The fact is, there’s much that I love about my story, but I don’t love it quite enough (right now, anyway) to put in all the time needed to differentiate it from Other Book. And that’s okay. I’m surprisingly not as bothered as I thought I would be. On to other things. Nothing like a new shiny project to buoy your spirits!
* Because let’s face it, no time is really wasted that you spend on the craft of writing. I learn SO much in the process of planning, writing, and revising a story. I really wouldn’t trade that.