Monday, June 11, 2012

Is Your Story Original?

Is your story original? It's a question many authors worry about.

Last year, I was thinking about Medusa. She was raped by Poseidon and punished for it by Athena (because it happened in her temple) who turned her into a monster that used to give me nightmares as a child. I remember stressing over whether or not Medusa was real. Someone could look at me and I'd be turned into stone instead of a regular corpse? I worried over whether or not I'd lose my soul along with my body. I was certain that Medusa's powers erased people from existence. Children's imaginations are a bit crazy.

Now, as an adult, my fear has turned into fascination. I feel that her curse was a horrible fate forced upon her, which causes her to be one of the most misunderstood characters of all time. I no longer see her as evil, but as a burdened woman. I wanted to write a story where everyone else would grow to care for her as well. I wanted to alleviate some of her pain by making her and Perseus fall in love.

I started to grow excited as I completed my outline. I searched for other stories that might have been published where Medusa was the good guy, the main character, and where she fell in love with Perseus. I found nothing. She's always been the villain. I was shocked. I wrote about necromancers in my first novel, but knew a ton of other people had done the same. Had I actually come up with an original idea? Was I special?

I had every chapter planned out in detail. The day I began writing, this guy added me on twitter. He had a picture of Medusa on his profile. I thought that was neat and decided to check him out. He had written one novel that he was seeking publication for. It was a novel where Medusa was the main character, and a good misunderstood person, and the story was about her and Perseus falling in love. My heart fell.

Of course, I thought he was a genius. I loved my own idea, so of course I was going to love his as well. But it still hurt. Someone else had written the same thing. I grew worried over whether or not people would think I copied him, even though I knew I hadn't. I had outlined every scene of my entire story and written character profiles long before I ever heard of this guy.

He had posted a query letter on his site, which I read to see how closely our stories resembled one another. His seemed to take place in an alternate universe. There was more action in it than mine had and it only resembled the original story because of the characters and their powers. Other than that, he seemed to deviate from the myth entirely. I started to relax. My story focuses on the romance. All the events of Medusa and Perseus' lives, including their deaths, happen the same. It's more of a behind the scenes look at the mythology, where you see what "really" happened and why the story we have today is the one that has been passed down. Our ideas were similar, but no, our stories were nothing like each other.

It's the same with everything else. Yes, people like to say that every vampire story is the same, but if that was true, then I wouldn't hate watching Vampire Diaries, while also being on the edge of my seat for every new episode of True Blood. They'd be interchangeable to me because they were both about a human girl falling in love with a vampire. But they each take the idea in different directions and have different characters with unique personalities. They have their own unique cultures and problems. So yes, they are similar, but they are both original.

It's always funny to me that people accuse a novel of ripping off another one just because their premises are similar. For instance, people love to say that the Hunger Games copied Battle Royale, even though the author had never seen or heard of it before. While at the same time we think of Fifty Shades of Grey as an original story, even though the author readily admits that she ripped the story off of Twilight because it was a fan-fic.

Chances are if you've written a novel, someone else has written something similar to you. It's not a horrible thing and it's not something we should be judging authors on. Even if I hadn't found that guy, it's not like I created the characters Perseus or Medusa. They had lived for a long time through mythology.

I still haven't read the novel written by that guy who had a similar idea to me, even though I've finished writing my own novel, so our ideas were developed totally independently of one another. I do hope one day that he will be published though and when that time comes, I plan to devour that novel and enjoy seeing where he took the idea.

Have you ever been disappointed to find that someone was writing a story similar to yours?


Anonymously Yours said...

I am still looking to see if anyone has an idea like mine. I am sure it is out there somewhere. Jenna Black is writing a new series about children of Greek gods...Deadly Descendent is a good read. And a lot of authors are pulling away from vamps and weres into using mythology. is possible I just haven't found it yet :) I am okay with it. While some of the premise may be similar, I doubt they wrote my story or vise-versa ....

Precy Larkins said...

Don't worry too much about similar story lines. The bottom line is: No one can write your book the way you do. The voice, the writing style, the elements of your story, and your characters will still vary greatly from someone who has the same theme, like in your case, Medusa and Perseus falling in love.

There's no way that a story can be totally original anymore--not in this day and age. Books have been written for centuries; stories have evolved in many different ways but for the most part, they all bear similarities to each other in miniscule doses.

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