January 31, 2014

How Similar is TOO Similar?

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.


24 comments:

  1. Let's try commenting again without me hitting publish before I'm finished :P

    Aaah, interesting that you mention The Hunger Games when it is so frequently compared to Battle Royale. I've read both, and they are really, really, really alike. Goes to show you can give two completely unconnected authors a similar concept and they'll do different things with it.

    It's a tough call. You're right - it is hard to stand out from the pack. I say write what you want and see what happens. There's always time to write something else :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. THE HUNGER GAMES and BATTLE ROYALE is actually the perfect example. There are huge similarities and just as huge differences (from what I understand), *but* there is constant chatter about these two books and a good deal of it isn't very pleasant. I guess I don't want to subject myself to "this book is a rip-off of [insert story here]" type of dialogue with a story that I've written. I've run into similarities before, but never so many and so spot on. It was really kind of eerie at times, to be honest. But, like I've said, I'm okay with moving on for now or for good if that's what ends up happening. :-)

      Delete
    2. I think where they differ is the society they portray. I enjoyed both books. I don't believe The Hunger Games "stole" anything. After all, Battle Royale was hardly the first book to use such a contest as its main concept.

      Whatever you do, it'll be for the best. And who knows what Shiny New Idea might come along :D

      Delete
  2. Well, you know I'm always moaning about other stories that have similarities with mine, and we've discussed your dilemma already. I'm glad you've been toying with a new idea, and I think this gives you permission (not that you need it) to work on an entirely new project. Like you said, no time spent writing is wasted, and the story you're setting aside gave you a lot of practice. Who knows? Maybe it's a matter of timing, or someday you might come up with a way to differentiate it. Whatever the case, I hope the shiny new project continues to develop into something awesome. I have a feeling it will!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As you know, I've been tempted time and time again to move onto other projects but always felt too tied to WoN. Like I said to Cole, I've encountered similarities to my story before, but never so many and not so eerily spot on. There comes a point when the changes needed to differentiate a story are so many and so time-consuming that it starts to feel not worth it. I think you're right about timing and I think the timing just isn't right for me to continue working on this one. On to more fun projects! :-)

      Delete
  3. Ugh! The same thing happened to me back in 2011. I was nearly done with the second draft and a book came out that had exactly the same start point as mine. Everyone told me not to worry, but then the book got huge and so I shelved my story.

    I'm glad you're feeling so upbeat about it and are moving on to new things :) You can always go back to your old story of you find you miss it too much.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's kind of a terrible feeling, isn't it? On the one hand, you think "my story idea was obviously a good one and here's the proof", but on other hand you can't help feeling a little deflated that you just weren't quick enough. In my case, the already-been-published similar story is, I feel, so much better executed than mine. It has that extra something that mine doesn't have, something that kicks it up to awesome. But, like you say, I'm feeling upbeat about new idea! I've been wanting to tackle something new for a while now, so this just gives me the push I needed. :-)

      Delete
  4. Yeah, it totally sucks when someone has the same/similar idea. But I like your thinking--if you love, love, love it, go for it; if not, don't. I like to think that even if your idea is similar to someone else's, it's the way you write it and what you put into that makes it different. I hope so, anyway :) Have fun with the new shiny!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think that's what it boils down to in any and all writing situations: Just how much do you love this story? Because if the passion disappears you really have yourself why or what can be done to regain that initial passion. If you come up blank on that latter question, probably a good idea to move on.

      While I definitely agree that it's all in how you write the idea that's similar to another, but in this case, the premise is mostly the same, and a lot of the details (key plot points) are so much the same that it's kind of bonkers. But all of this isn't as terrible as it might seem because I've been wanting to write something new for a while now. This give me the motivation I needed to do so. There's so much I want to do differently this time around. :-)

      Delete
  5. I struggle with this too, Jaime. With contemporary (romance-centered) YA there are only so many probably conflicts a writer can come up with. Though, I suppose the same can be said for all genres. I think it's all about the way you run with the idea. I know that if (before I read THE HUNGER GAMES) someone had asked me to write a story about about kids forced to kill each other in an arena by a corrupt dystopian government, my story would have been vastly different than that one super popular trilogy we all know and love. I wish there was an easy bit of advice to hand out, but mostly I just think you should write what you feel most passionately about, what will bring you the most satisfaction. Simple, right? :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, definitely. Which is why I think we're starting to see some really out-there premises for books these days. In my WiP's case, there are only a few published stories that have this similar premise, so it would be *really* noticeable that mine is too similar. The premise is very much the same, as are very important plot points and even minor details. It actually kind of weirded me out at times lol. I think you're right that there's no easy advice and that you should just write what you're passionate about. For me, that's this new idea which really isn't much more than a blob of random ideas. This is the exciting part though! Thanks for understanding, Katy. :-)

      Delete
  6. One approach is to make sure you read widely and dabble in genres that are outside your comfort zone (if only in short form--flash fiction, short stories--nothing "official"). This helps you bring something fresh to ideas that may seem like they're recycled. If X has been done before, but your reading and dabbling has inspired you to bring W and Y to X, you're cooking up something that may be fairly unique. I hope that makes sense... :)

    Another thing to bear in mind is that setting aside a story for whatever reason (too similar, lost zeal for it, agent rejections...) doesn't mean that story is dead-and-done-for. Maybe later in your career, when you have an agent and your books are flying off the shelves, you may hit upon exactly how to make Similar-Novel work. It might then end up being published at a time when the similarities with Other-Novel are either forgotten, or irrelevant because your book's so awesome.

    Just some thoughts. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, the thing about my WiP is that I started it three years ago when there really weren't any books that felt like it in the YA market. Since then, Other Book was published. I was aware that there were probably similarities, but it wasn't until reading it that I realized just how many and how difficult it would be to differentiate my story from Other Book.

      I'm coming at it from the angle you mention: It might not be dead-and-done-for and setting it aside doesn't mean I won't come back to it. It feels like the right decision right now and I'm completely okay with that. Sometime down the road I might now how to approach it and make it really, really good. :-)

      Delete
    2. I was thinking the same, that the story doesn't have to be dead. Though it's tough to shelve a book for the reason you mentioned.

      Delete
  7. Writing what you're excited about is always a good call! I'll miss the WoN crew but I can't wait to see what's up next!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Definitely! As you know, I've been struggling to get back into writing, so being excited about what I'm working on is crucial right now. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit bummed (especially after coming up with new ideas for WoN), but I think once I get going on the new idea I'll just get more and more excited about it. I hope so anyway! :-)

      Delete
  8. I hear you, Jaime. I was on PM the other day and saw that a decent publisher bought a book that had the same premise as mine. Then I read about another midsized publisher that had a similar book with a similar theme and heck…EVEN SIMILAR NAMES. O_O I keep texting and emailing my critique partners, who tell me that my book is different enough. But what if it isn't?! And on an ironic twist of things, my WIP originally started as fan fiction 6 years ago, so I always wonder what I pull from my head and from the series… (It's not FF anymore of course :))

    In a very funny story of similar stories/etc… I used to read Dear America books and write 'fake' ones/stories on our home computer. I was in about the 3rd or 4th grade when I wrote one about the Depression era about a little girl. It was fun. I abandoned it…moved onto other things…new books etc. I grew up. One day in 6th grade I was in the library and saw there was a new Dear America book…about the Depression with the same little girl name that I had used and even the same area of the US.
    How bizzare!

    In all I always say 'just write what you love. good things come to perseverence, patience & lovelovelove.' :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It really is disheartening to stumble across something so similar to your own work. And the worst part is that you'll never know just how similar it is until you read it. I hope, for your sake, that the similarities are only surface level. Since Other Book and mine are so similar and both are intended to be part of trilogies, I can't even be certain that where we're taking our stories won't overlap again. I mean, it's bad enough with one book, but if the entire trilogy follows the same path...eek. For now, I think moving on is the best course of action for me, and I'm okay with that.

      That's crazy about the Dear America Depression era book! I think qualifies as a shiver down the spine moment. There is definitely something to writing what you love (just so long as it isn't identical to something else lol). You only do damage to something when you've lost the passion you once felt for it. There's where I'm at right now. So, on to other projects I can feel passionate/excited about! :-)

      Delete
  9. I agree with you on your feelings for the novel. If I loved a WiP so much I wouldn't want to throw it away out of fear of having it compared to something else. That'll be something I'd face just to go for my dream. Sometimes people like to track down similar books because it's their taste. I started to read Divergent because I really enjoyed Hunger Games and was looking for similar books with a FMC against the government kinda situation. I wouldn't worry too much. It can be a positive thing.

    Thing is... everyone finds some way to compare books. Look how people compared Harry Potter to Twilight. Two different series that people still managed to compare purely because they were a series and had a large fanbase.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yep. If you love something enough, then you'll be willing to put in the time needed to differentiate it from another book that is just too similar. I've been struggling with this story for ages now (I've queried it and rewritten it a couple times), so I think this is a good sign that I should work on something else for a while. I'm not completely abandoning this story, but I don't want to even touch it until I can feel excited about it again, until I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and tackle the changes that need to happen. I'm not there right now.

      BUT, I'm excited about working on a new idea, which is the takeaway here. Yeah, it sucks to shelf a story even temporarily, but getting excited/passionate about a new idea is always a good thing. :-)

      Delete
  10. I don't think I could ever throw away a project due to similarities. It would pain me too much!

    The worst bit about books with similarities is the fans who will automatically hate on the other book due to similarities. That saddens me.

    ReplyDelete
  11. The first personalized rejection letter I ever got from an agent was about something like this. She said she'd just signed a client with a similar premise, specifically that it was "too similar for me even to consider." Talk about frightening. This was back in 2009, and I did actually figure out what book it was--and other than them being the same sub-genre of fantasy, the author's book and my MS weren't similar at all. But I always wondered if the agent would have requested my MS if I'd queried her BEFORE she signed that client.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I know there are lists out there that say there are only only 3 (or 6 or 12) plots in the world, and all that matters is how you write yours differently than someone else. But if you aren't in love enough with your project to put it through the serious revisions you think it needs, there's nothing wrong with starting a shiny new one! :) Good for you, Jaime! <3

    P.S. I ADORE your new layout! It makes me wish for spring!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Love that you were able to relatively quickly come to a decision that you could feel good about, and move on. How exciting to have a new idea you are looking forward to working on. That makes all the difference.

    ReplyDelete

I ♥ comments. They make me smile.☺