On Creativity and Writing: Making the Most of Ideas, part III — The Fear of Being Scooped

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In December of 1993, Buena Vista Productions released the movie Tombstone, starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer.  The film told the story of the life and times of the legendary Western lawman, Wyatt Earp.  In June 1994, Warner Brothers released Wyatt Earp, starring Kevin Costner and Dennis Quaid.  The film told the story of the life and times of the legendary Western lawman, Wyatt Earp.

In May 1998, Universal Studios released Deep Impact, starring Robert Duvall, Tea Leoni, and a small, hairy-footed actor named Elijah Wood.  It was a science fiction film in which people on earth discover that an enormous comet is on a collision course with our planet, threatening all of life as we know it.  In July 1998, Touchstone Pictures released Armageddon, starring Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, and Liv Tyler (minus the pointy ears she wore when saving the life of the previously mentioned small, hairy-footed actor).  It was a science fiction film in which people on earth discover that an enormous asteroid is on a collision course with our planet, threatening all of life as we know it.

A couple of weeks ago, I began a series of posts about ideas (the first two installments can be found here and here), and in the second post I talked about the fears that sometimes come with new ideas.  I touched upon several that I have encountered, but ignored one that apparently has troubled many of you:  Namely, the fear of having someone else write and publish your idea before you have a chance to get your own book out there.

I think I ignored this particular fear because I had an adviser in graduate school who cured me of it before I ever started writing fiction.  As a grad student I was afraid of having my dissertation idea “scooped.”  In other words, I was afraid that some other grad student, or, worse, some established scholar, would write about the same topic and render my work irrelevant.  When I said something about this to my editor, he said, “If you’re worried about being scooped, you’re thinking too narrowly about your topic.”

What he meant — what connects his comment about historical scholarship with our discussion of writing fiction — is that every scholar and every author brings to his or her work idiosyncrasies of thought, of logic, of creativity, of emotion, of humor, etc. that will turn similar or even identical ideas into completely different finished works.

Let’s return to those movies for a moment.  The two movies about Wyatt Earp could not have been more similar in their conception, and they do share certain qualities — among them the fact that both actors who played Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer in Tombstone and Dennis Quaid in Wyatt Earp) turned in magnificent performances.  Apparently, Holliday is a pretty cool character to portray.  But the movies are also significantly different.  Tombstone focuses primarily on the gunfight at OK Corral and its aftermath.  The Costner production is more of a biopic, documenting most of Earp’s adult life.  Deep Impact and Armageddon were also quite different despite their similar premises.  Deep Impact is more drama, less thriller.  Its ending is more ambiguous, darker in a way.  The point:  Very similar ideas; substantially different films.

“But, David,” some of you are saying by now, “this isn’t just about the ideas, it’s also about being pre-empted and having our ideas used up by someone else.”

All right, let’s look at that.  It is certainly true that Tombstone, the first of the two Westerns to be released, did far better commercially than did Wyatt Earp, the movie that was “scooped.”  But that’s partially because it also did better critically.  With the singular exception of Quaid’s performance, Wyatt Earp kind of sucked.  That can be bad for box office performance, particularly when a better version remains fresh in the minds of audiences.  In the case of the twin science fiction films, the effect was exactly the opposite.  Armageddon came out second — it was, or at least seemed to be, the movie that got “scooped” — but it got better reviews and did substantially better at the box office than its rival.  The point:  Write a good book (or make a good movie) and being “scooped” doesn’t matter so much.

How does this translate to books?  In my opinion, one book being scooped by another is far less damaging than one movie being scooped by another.  Movies are marketed across a broad swath of popular culture.  Most books are not.  The fact that a book or series from one publisher is similar in conception to a book or series from another is far less likely to draw the attention of reading audiences, unless those books happen to be popular on the order of Harry Potter or Game of Thrones.  Sadly, most book marketing simply does not penetrate the cultural consciousness as deeply as does most movie marketing.

But more to the point, and perhaps the most important thing I can say, “scooping” happens all the time in movies, TV shows, and, yes, in books as well.  And it doesn’t seem to matter.  I’ve already looked at movies (and I didn’t even mention this spring’s twin “Snow White” releases).  Television shows replicate each other all the time.  Stroll through the shelves of your local Barnes and Noble (and while you’re there, feel free to buy a copy of Thieftaker) and check out the young adult paranormal section.  There are a ton of vampire romances out right now.  Or look at the spate of post-apocalyptic YA fantasies published in recent years.  Rather than shunning similar stories, young readers are gobbling up all of them.  The early Shannara books were a lot like Lord of the Rings.  The Artemis Fowl books, which are actually not all that similar to Harry Potter, were originally packaged in a way that would make people think that they were!

It comes down to this:  Writing and publishing books is not a zero-sum game.  If you were planning to write a book about a conjuring thieftaker in Colonial North America, the sales of Thieftaker will not mean fewer sales for you.  On the contrary — if Thieftaker continues to do well, that should help your book.  There is a reason why agents and editors pitch new books by saying “It’s really similar to [insert title of bestseller here]!”  

So relax.  Your book is going to be entirely yours.  You bring to your creative work a lifetime of unique experiences, passions, and observations, as does every other author.  Your work cannot help but be unique as well, even if your starting point is similar to someone else’s.  And the market is broad enough, diverse enough, flexible enough to accommodate more than one series about demon-fighting geckos or zombie-killing kangaroos or vampire orthodontist erotica.  To paraphrase my grad school advisor, if your book idea is so specialized that it can accommodate only one creative interpretation, it might not be as good an idea as you think.

So, your assignment for today is to tell us all something about your WIP that makes it entirely your own, that another writer could never, ever “scoop” you on.  I’ll start:  I have a UF that I hope to sell soon.  The concept is great.  But the best part of it, by far, is the mix of characters: the protagonist, his “sidekick,” his romantic interest, his best friend.  The dynamic among them all just works, and it is unlike anything another writer would write.  Now, how about you?

David B. Coe
http://www.DavidBCoe.com
http://www.dbjackson-author.com
http://magicalwords.net
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49 comments to On Creativity and Writing: Making the Most of Ideas, part III — The Fear of Being Scooped

  • Hah! I love this topic. I have an exercise I do when I teach writing classes that directly addresses it. Now I suddenly want to try doing the exercise here on MW… :)

  • Hmmm. So far I’ve not run across a book that uses colors as the key to it’s magic system. For aliens…in another universe…who come to this one and proceed to wage war on Earth to save Earth. Yeah. Fantasy, science fiction, this book can’t even decide what genre it is.

  • Catie, you should! I would love to hear what the exercise is for my own teaching. [Pen poised, staring expectantly . . .]

    Xlade, that sounds very intriguing. And blending fantasy and SF can be both fun and commercially rewarding. I did that with my first series and it worked out pretty well for me. Best of luck with it!

  • Nicely put, David. When you were talking film, I found myself thinking of Platoon and Full Metal Jacket which also came out very close together.

    Agreed that execution is all. I would add that any lingering fears about being scooped are best handled by producing your work quickly rather than being secretive about it. You can’t stop people from coming up with similar ideas and writing them well, but you can at least get yours in front of agents/editors/readers faster if you don’t sit on your manuscript for 10 years while fiddling with it and putting your beta readers under a gag order.

  • Sort of had this very thing happen recently and I did lament that I didn’t or couldn’t jump on it sooner, because the author (a well known one) that brought out the similar piece is getting accolades now that I can’t help but think could have been mine if I’d been the first to bring out this new idea for a MC, a different hook, so to speak. Day late and a dollar short. Still, in the end, the only things that are the same are the basic premise (supernatural angle) of the main character and the fact that it’s sort of noir. His seems more comedic and classic urban fantasy by the sound of it while mine holds more to the roots of noir, darker and stark, and instead of going vamps, werewolves, magic and such, I went with a more low level supers/superscience/steampunkish setting. I think the real fear for me here is people believing that I’m just jumping on the bandwagon because the two main characters are somewhat similar (even though I thought of the idea probably three years ago). But at the end of the day, I’m pretty sure the two characters are more different than their basic similarity makes them seem. But as you say, I can at least point to that other book and say it’s somewhat similar to that book over there that people are loving.

  • And one of the underlying messages here I guess, as far as the movie examples go, is, if you do get trumped, write it better. 😉

  • Xlade>> You should read Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker novel. It uses colors as its magic system.

    As for my WIP, I would say that having gone through pschological trauma and come out the other end OK, that I bring a unique look into the process of physchological recovery. I know what it is like to be staring at the abyss and be able to walk away.

  • sagablessed

    Actually, if someone did something similar to one of my books (when I get published that is) I would be honored and proud. Such would mean I inspired and motivated another author. And no one else has my wry voice or writing style, I do not worry about the ideas. There are always more.
    When one writes, one taps into a well as deep as life and as old as the earth. It does not run dry, so something fresh is never an issue: we simply do not remember there are many cups to drink with.
    Stay thirsty, my friends.

  • A.J., Platoon and FMJ are great examples — there was a whole spate of Vietnam related movies that came out in the late 1970s that also meet the criteria. I would agree that working quickly can help with the scooping issue, and certainly sitting on a project for years is akin to just ASKING to be scooped. On the other hand — and in the shorter term — I think that speed is almost beside the point. In this business, as you well know, writing it fast is only a small part of the battle — getting it into the hands of the right agent or editor can take a long time, and production can be its own time-sink nightmare. As you say, write the best book you can, and have faith that the particulars of your creative vision will, by definition, produce an original work.

    Daniel, I can only imagine how frustrating that must be — although I have to tell you that if the book is out recently, this author probably came up with his/her idea at almost exactly the same time you did. Three years from conception to publication is about right. But yes, it all comes down to writing quality fiction. Best of luck.

  • Mark, yikes! You just told Xglade that he’d been scooped!! Never fear, X, your work is not going to be the same as Brandon’s. As for your own work, Mark, it does sound like you have a truly unique perspective on the issues that inform your writing — painful as it must have been, it will make your work stand out all the more.

    Saga, well put. I know that my early work has inspired others to write similar stuff, and I do find it flattering. I also think that you’re right about how our own lives inform our art. We are all individuals!! (“I’m not . . .”)

  • […] Writing: Making the Most of Ideas, part III — The Fear of Being Scooped” and it can be found here.  I hope you enjoy it! Share this:FacebookTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]

  • It’s likely possible. I’ve always felt that all writers are plugged into some massive idea matrix collective and multiple people will get hit upside the head with the same general idea, but not all will heed it or have the time or will be working on something else (my issue because I was writing Rogue 5 at the time AND originally thought it’d make a good comic book series and I didn’t have an artist). The comic book thing actually came along earlier 2007ish, but I was too busy with other projects to go through looking for an artist/inker/etc to start an indie comic so I set the idea aside. My usual curse of trying to take on too many things at once. 😉 Another reason why I’ve been trying to work faster on novels lately. No one to blame but me and my lack of speed. 😉

  • Unicorn

    Thank you for an extremely timely post, David – having gotten over the initial rush of writing the first third of my new WIP, I’ve slowed down a little, and the fears are starting to creep in. This was the biggest fear, that I’ve somehow stolen somebody else’s idea and tricked myself into thinking it’s my own.
    But it’s not. Because I am probably the only writer in the world crazy enough to try and write a dark epic fantasy, with a cynical main character, and give it a Christian twist, meekness and all. I still have NO idea of how I’m going to pull it off, but it’s got to be unique.
    Unicorn

  • Daniel, I agree with you. Ideas — for books, for movies, for TV shows — do seem to come in clusters. It’s a little weird, really.

    Unicorn, glad to help. And yes, your work does sound different and individual and all those good things. It will be utterly unique, and I think all of us here at MW have faith in your ability to make it work. Keep at it!

  • As someone trying to shop my erotic pirate novel, boy did I need this! Do you realize just how many pirate romances are out there? I have asked myself “what was I thinking” soooo many times. But, I wrote this one for the only reason that no one else had – a Treasure Island fanfic with sex. Did you know that there are no women in Treasure Island except for Jim Hawkins’ mom at the beginning. Well, I took care of that. I did research, worked in the historical elements, real pirates and you will NEVER guess who my MC ends up with. Thanks David!

  • David, Lucienne pitched Skinwalker during one of the *dips* in Vampire popularity. She posed it as biker chick vampire hunter, similar to early Anita Blake, but tougher. That *this is like that* worked in my favor.

  • David> I’ve always been a little afraid of ths. I had a chapter in my dissertation essentially scooped. I had an idea about a romance, got all excited, did a bunch of reserach and found the chapter I wanted to write. I still wrote a good chapter about it, but I was bummed that I wasn’t the first to notice the stuff I had. (the other article came out ten years or more before I wrote my stuff…but it wasn’t a popular piece to write about, so the article wasn’t particularly well known.)

    As for my own work–Knychtspelle (I hope I spelled that right–we’ve changed the spelling of our title a few times) is an urban fantasy, with a modern MC heroine who goes to Winter Court London, which is also very urban, and not quite what she expected–it’s urban with magic and without iron, so things are very different. With the Winter Court, the nobility, kings, etc. It has a feel of epic fantasy, but it has the gritty urban stuff, too. So a bit of both, there.

  • Arright. I’ll do my exercise as part of my next blog post, which is good ’cause I can set it up in advance ’cause i’m going to be on a writing retreat when the post goes up. :)

  • Faith, from what I’ve heard and observed, the “this is like that” pitch is the most prevalent in our business. Editors say they want something fresh and new, but the truth is that publishers (and TV moguls and movie producers) want to spend money on things they are confident will make money. “Originally derivative” is what they’re really looking for.

    Emily, your WIP sounds very original, and being able to identify its genre roots (epic with shades of UF grit) will help with the marketing.

    Catie, excellent!!

  • ajp88

    @Xlade, Uh oh. “In the blink of an eye he saw roaring red and violent flames poured from his staff…He saw grey and aimed for the street at the boy’s feet. The brick road exploded at the spot he targeted and the boy yelped as his legs were struck.” Haha, but mine is decidedly dark fantasy and I’m certain the plots are radically different.

    As for what makes my story unique, beyond a color based magic system, I’d have to say the scope of the world and the ways that each POV finds themselves connected to the others across the sprawling tale, and maybe the way I’m combining all of my influences. I really enjoy rewarding close readers with little insights that even the characters may not notice, so that (for example) the reader reads a scene from an assassin’s point of view knowing that her victims were the same brigands that harassed another character chapters ago. That was something I loved about the television series Lost and Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire.

  • Aline, thanks for the great comment. I love the idea of adding women to TREASURE ISLAND. Boy do some of those older classics need a dose of gender reality! Glad you found the post helpful.

    Alex, oh boy — poor Xlade! Two in one day . . . I really do think that character work and interactions of the sort you describe are what will set any story apart. That’s where the writer’s personality, emotions, and experiences really sign through.

  • Crap, I screwed up my HTML formatting or something, there. Is that fixable?

  • Also… “The interactions and relationships of the main character with those around her” is the proper spelling…

  • My WIP is Kinslayer Winter. As far as I know there isn’t an fantasy out there that has viking berserkers in a modern, urban setting. But if someone else is right now saying “Berserkers! I’ll write about Berserkers!” their book is going to be theirs, not mine. My book has a lot of good old hack up the monster scenes, but it also explores issues of family conflict and sibling feud that are, shall we say, very personal. I enjoy Stephen Zimmer and D.A. Adams’ (no relation) work – both of them draw on similar myths and cultural sources, but we’re all very different writers.

    PS If any of you are writing books that are about vikings/Anglo-Saxon warriors/berserkers – I’d love to read them too. Bring on the vikings! We need more vikings!

  • L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright

    I have a dear close relative who is so worried about this that he doesn’t want to bring his novel to my house to print it because he is afraid someone will steal it. Blink. Blink. At my house. Like my husband or I. I assured him that with all the work it took to sell a book, I would not be hawking his book around unless he BEGGED me, but he would not relent.

    For myself, I love Pascal’s comment “Nothing is written until I write it.” I take this to mean that my take on a subject will be different from any other person’s, even as yours would be.

    Or, to put it another way, there are thosands of Regency romances, and yet new ones come along that fans of Regencies still enjoy, because the author found a new twist. The same thing is true for all other genres.

  • L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright

    By the way, there is a reason that there are no women in Treasure Island, the boy it was written for specifically requested a boys story with no girls in it. 😉

  • David, another great post. I’ll link to it the next time I read a comment from some newbie writer who’s all aflutter that there are hordes of uninspired writers, editors, agents, and others just lurking around, waiting to swipe their totally original idea and make tons of money, thus rendering that idea completely useless for anybody else.

    That was mean of me, but you do see comments that make it clear the poor writer has no idea that originality is in the execution, not the conception. I was there too once.

    My own WIP is a reality-based thing combining rock musicians and a gangbanger; complete with racism, classism, drug addiction, a look at how music can empower almost anybody, a fight or two over women, and learning to be comfortable with who we really are. And a couple of gunfights if I can work ’em in 😉 I ain’t worried about anybody stealing.

  • Excellent post, David. And you couldn’t have picked better examples of movies to compare. I thought Val Kilmer’s performance as Doc Holiday was magnificent. But if there can be such great differences in movies, think about books. Writers have much more space to develop characters and stamp it with their own personality/voice. Give five writers the same plot and same ending, and same characters, and they’ll still come up with five different stories.

  • My nearly-done-polishing-dear-Universe-PLEASE-let-me-be-done-with-it novel is YA high fantasy. Call me crazy, but I really don’t feel worried someone will scoop it. That being said, I don’t know what books to compare it to and the question terrifies me (yes, I was even asked directly by an agent last October. Then I said I didn’t know and she said that was fine and she suggested a book that everyone apparently thinks is fantastic and I didn’t like it *facepalm*).

    My other work, the one I’m putting energy into officially as of this month, is an Urban Fantasy. It involves a tabloid that seeds its wild stories with true ones in order to protect the magical/paranormal world. My main character has the ability to speak to ghosts, and her dead twin brother has been bugging her about going to the tabloid, where he used to work, to learn the truth about how he died. But when the tabloid won’t tell her (even though they know full well about her powers, since her brother had them too), she gets mixed up in *way* bigger problems. I’m also not worried about that one, actually. Like the YA fantasy, it’s *my* story to tell. (Okay, that one’s a bit more complicated, as I have a partner in this project. But still, not worried that someone will scoop.)

    Maybe that’s what it is. I’m so possessive of the fact that they’re my stories and ideas that I don’t worry that someone else will take them. :)

  • I’ve been lurking here for quite awhile, with the occasional rare comment, but what I want to say now requires a slight bit of an introduction to give it some context. I’m a computer programmer by trade. Database and mobile phone development lately, and I’ve made several attempts at computer games on the side. I guess you could say I’m a professional game developer since I’ve made enough off of my attempts to pay for the computer they were developed on. I really want to write, but I’m always torn between spending my creative energies on making video games or writing novels. Up to this point video games have always won out, but I’m getting to the point where the writing is becoming more attractive… I think.

    Anyway, when reading these posts, and those on other writing sites, I’m continually amazed at the parallels between creating video games and writing books. Pretty much every post here can be applied equally to video game programming, and David’s latest post is the another perfect example. When creating games there is always the fear of someone stealing your idea and creating a game with it before you get yours done, and the temptation is there to keep it absolutely private. But in reality, people making games already have their own ideas on the game they want to make, and they’re not interested in taking what someone else is doing. There are just too many ideas and too many games each developer already has backlogged to even have the time or desire to worry about what someone else is doing. True, just like books, two people might end up with a very similar idea, but each is going to go a different direction with that idea and end up with two completely different games.

    I would imagine this is applies to any creative endeavor. Make what you want to make, and don’t worry about someone else doing the same thing.

  • Boy, the rain knocks out our internet for a little while, and look how the comments pile up!

    Stephen, thanks for being one to suggest this post — obviously it’s one lots of people are interested in discussing. I would imagine that there are lots of things that set your world and story apart from the particular one you mention and from others that might also be similar. As for what you should do about this one, my advice would be NOT to read it. Write your book as you intend; my feeling is that in this case ignorance is your friend. If you read this other book, you’re going to find that things in it influence you and change your work. The effect might be subtle; you might not realize it’s happening at all. But it will happen. Write your book. THEN read the other. I bet you’ll find that they have stuff in common, but that they are fundamentally different.

    Sarah, I think you have the perfect attitude about this, and I think your viking berserkers are destined to be quite original. Best of luck with the WIP.

    Jagi, I love that Pascal quote. And thanks for the history lesson re. TREASURE ISLAND. I probably should have known that.

    Owllady, thank you. I know what you mean, and yet I also have sympathy for these fears, since they were so acute for me when I was in grad school. I like the conception/execution way of looking at this issue. I might borrow that if I may. :)

    Jim, thanks. I have to say that as much as I loved Kilmer’s portrayal of Doc Holliday, I liked Quaid’s ever more (though the rest of the movie was not nearly as good). And I agree with you completely on the five authors thing. Thanks for the comment.

    Laura, I think that possessiveness serves you well. They are your stories, from start to finish, and even if there were similar tales being told by another writer, they still would be. Hold on to that attitude; it’s very healthy.

    Dave, thanks for de-lurking and joining the discussion. I think it’s fascinating to hear about other industries and media that wind up being so similar to ours and I appreciate your perspective on the “scooping” issue. My brother is an accomplished professional artist. He and his colleagues often get together for weekends and go out to paint together, often setting up in proximity to one another and basically painting the same scenes. They never worry about doing this because they KNOW that all their results will be absolutely original. Writers would benefit from that attitude. Thanks again!

  • @David: Thanks. I posed the same question to the few folks who follow my blog, and they had much the same thought as you. And then, to my surprise, the author who scooped me showed up to chime in and seemed to generally agree. So it’ll be on my list to read… after the first draft is either done or substantially done. And then I can see how I stack up and if I need to do anything in the edit stage to better differentiate.

  • Getting scooped is not something I’ve really worried about, partly because I have so many other writerly worries to get through that I just run out of time :) I also don’t worry much about that because I know that if I like a certain topic, subject matter, or style, I tend to read everything I can find that’s in a similar vein–if I read one book that I like I immeditately start looking for other (good) authors writing books “like that.” My time as a bookseller taught me that many readers think this same way–customers always wanted books similar to an author they enjoyed. (Which explains why agents like to pitch that way, I suppose.)

    For my own WIP, I think what’s unique is the relationship between the characters and the setting. The setting is in the future on a planet that is physically so similar to earth that it has become a tourist attraction, and the desire to preserve that lucrative business leads to some of the conflict and political intrigue in the story.

  • Glad to help, Stephen, and glad to know that my advice dovetailed with that of other people.

    SiSi, I like the set-up for your book. And I think that “the relationship between the characters and the setting,” is vastly underrated as a distinguishing factor for books. That’s the place where concept and execution often meet, and so it is destined to be one of the most dynamic parts of a book. Thanks for the comment.

  • Razziecat

    David, I don’t worry about this so much anymore because I keep discovering that names, plots, magic systems, etc, that I’ve come up with have already been used by other authors whose works I had never read before. I just like to remember the saying, “Great minds think alike!” :)

  • quillet

    Really, really love this post. I no longer worry about being the person with the One! Original! Idea! because that really isn’t the point of good writing. As you say, the execution is all. No one else has my voice, and I’m positive no one else has my characters. They are what I’m most proud of in my own work. Of course, they all have minds of their own and sometimes refuse to do what their author tells them to do… but that’s a good thing, right?

    And now I just have to get my geek on. While Elijah Wood may be a small (or at least short) actor, he doesn’t have hairy feet! No more so, anyway, than Liv Tyler has pointy ears: it was worn for the movie. 😉

  • Chris Branch

    Thanks David, as another of those who brought up the concern, I appreciate your exploring it further. For the record, I wasn’t suggesting we worry about anyone “stealing” an idea – in fact, even the word “scooped” somehow makes the other writer seem like the bad guy – it’s not his fault he thought of the same idea! Nor was I worried that readers wouldn’t enjoy my original take on the idea; I like my writing and figure there at least a few others who would too. No, I guess it was more a matter of the idea being the easy part, at least for some of us. Taking it from idea to completed story, well, that’s not as easy, but many of us have made it that far too. And it’s now, during the submit and wait (and collect rejection letters) part, that seeing your idea make it into print can be… difficult. 😉

    On a minor technical note, is it possible to enable comment preview? Because as we all know, the first draft is never perfect. 😉

  • Razz, that’s a terrific attitude to have about it. As you say, there is SO much overlap among works of fiction in our genre, it’s almost hard to avoid it all.

    Quillet, yes, characters doing the unexpected, or even defying us authors is perfectly normal. To me, that’s evidence that my character work is going well. If my characters are too obedient, I start to worry. And yes, I know that Elijah Wood’s hairy feet, and Liv Tyler’s pointy ears (not to mention Andy Serkis’s bulbous eyes and REALLY bad teeth) were all movie effects. I was trying (apparently unsuccessfully) to be funny….

    Chris, I certainly didn’t mean to imply in my post that I thought anyone was stealing ideas, and I didn’t mean for “scooping” to sound in any way accusatory. Ideas come at different times, and someone is bound to have any particular one “first.” It just happens. But yes, the idea — the concept — is the easier part (none of this is really easy); the execution is harder. And waiting is toughest of all in many ways. I understand what you’re saying, but wanted to cover the “scooping” issue as broadly as I could. As for comment preview, I will have to check with our webmaster. Todd? Misty? Y’all listening in?

  • 1. In the social sciences/humanities “getting scooped” can be a positive — one of the best things to ever happen to a grad student is being forced to figure out why a very similar argument to their own is *wrong.* Is there a corollary to this process in genre writing?

    2. Isn’t the whole point of writing in a genre that, at some level, works are united by crucial similarities? As novelty usually involves defying conventions, remixing them, fusing them with elements of other genres, or other forms of recombination, I’d think that being “scooped” is both inevitable and not all that much of a concern. After all, consumers seek out a genre (or sub-sub-sub genre) because they have expectations that they want works to fulfill… whatever jaded critics might think.

    But I comments as a reader, not a writer.

  • I can’t help thinking that nothing new is being written and nothing old is being rehashed. My novel (about to start shopping it around) has many elements that could be found in other books but I guess none all in the same one. That could probably be said for every book really. It must be the characters, the voice and the particular combination of elements that make a work unique even given the same basic premise.
    My book has a few ancient magic types wandering the earth with their own agendas like any number of books, but the relationships between them and what those agendas are must surely be unscoopable.

    TV Shows: I was looking for a new show to watch and found 2 that caught my interest. Grimm and Once Upon A Time. I read their synopsis: Grimm is about a guy whose family hunts supernatural critters and fairy tales are “real” while Once Upon A Time is about real fairy tales and the character who finds herself to be a main character in one. Immediately I was surprised that two fairy tale shows would come out at the same time. I also was surprised that Grimm was being made while Supernatural was still kicking about. But they are all very different. Yay.

  • What a great post! Anyone truly scared should look at the romance genre. How many ways can a Regency romance be told? Evidently, a lot:) we need to learn as writers to trust ourselves. Thanks for the insight. Most appreciated.

  • David, you can take my comment on conception and execution of originality and run with it. Have fun!

    Coincidentally, the online critique site I’m a member of had something up for “quote of the day” yesterday (and I don’t remember which author they attributed it to) that went along the lines of “good writers borrow, great writers steal.” For you purists out there, he didn’t mean *plagiarize*, but all these comments to your post show that the issue is always a relevant one. The great writers know how to take those two layers of plain chocolate cake and add an unexpected filling that complements the chocolate, and top it off with something else brand new. And then add those trick candles that re-light when you blow them out.

    (and I’d so love comment preview too)

  • Daniel, welcome to Magical Words. Your first point is a good one, and I think it translates well to fiction — upon learning that she has been scooped, an author has to decide what elements of her story are most integral, and most original. I think your second point has merit, too, although I think that authors of genre fiction don’t want to see their work as overly formulaic or reliant on tropes of their specific area. I know that you did not mean to imply anything pejorative, but genre fiction has long been ghettoized in literary circles, and I think that it would be easy for some to see in your second point a slippery slope toward that sort of thinking. Interesting comments, which both merit more exploration. Thanks!

    John, yes, fairy tales are very big right now, not only on TV, but also in movie theaters (SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN and MIRROR,MIRROR) and in books (Alethea Kontis’s ENCHANTED, the books of Sarah Beth Durst, and more). Ideas really do come in clusters. And I do think that you’re right about the mixing of different elements being a key to distinguishing new works from what’s come before.

    Lillian, thank you. Your point about romances is spot on.

    Owllady, thanks! I like the cake analogy, though now I’m hungry. And I will see about comment preview!

  • quillet

    @ David, lol! I knew you knew he doesn’t really have hairy feet, I was only teasing! Hence the winky face, but I guess that didn’t read. It was more a comment on the idea that poor Elijah Wood (yeah right, he’s not poor he’s lucky!) will always be Frodo no matter what else he does, even retroactively. So…it wasn’t you who failed to be funny, it was me. 😀

    I’m loving the discussion on this post. As someone who loves Regency romances as well as fantasy, I would have to say that fantasy tends to be a lot more varied, ideas-wise. The Regency stuff (this is just for me personally) is comfort food because I always know what to expect from it — but fantasy, when done well, challenges me to think more. That happens even when the same ideas show up in different people’s books, because every author will treat the ideas differently. Thus it becomes almost a discussion…

  • TwilightHero

    I used to be vaguely worried about my own originality – not so much at the thought I would be scooped, but rather that it would look like I was copying other people. And then I found this site, and before long read someone saying something along the lines of: pure originality is both hard to come by, and not all it’s cracked up to be. Publishers and readers are going to want your book to be comparable to other books so they know what they’re dealing with. It’s the differences, not the similarities, that make a book stand out, so worry not: there’s no way two people with the same idea will come up with the exact same story. I don’t remember who said all that now. It might have been you, David. But it certainly left an impression on me. Though I do have myriad writing worries – don’t we all? – getting scooped isn’t one of them. Great post :)

    What makes my WIP unique? I’d have to say the characters. The issues they focus on, the baggage they carry, the things they deem important, the way they act and react in various situations…just about all of my characters could be reduced to cardboard cutouts, but another person with the same cutouts would flesh them out in very different ways. My characters come from me. No one can copy that.

    And I just want to second what Razziecat said, particularly about names. I can almost guarantee that no matter how unique you think it is, somewhere out there, your name, or at least the word, already exists. (Google will back me up on this.) I once came up with a name I was convinced was completely, utterly original. Turns out it’s in the Bible 😛

  • I’m using my experience with concussions as a side-effect in Song of Fury for when my MC comes down from berserker.

    Oh, and hi, everybody. Been a while. Hope you’re all well.
    Cheers,

    NGD

  • Quillet, my bad for not catching that emoticon. Glad you’ve enjoyed this discussion. I do think that one of the great advantages of our genre is the variety of stories that fall under the “Fantasy” heading. We really do cover a lot of ground.

    Twilight, the post you cite really could have been written by any one of us, since I think at one time or another all of us have made similar points. It really does all come back to character, as I’ve said before. When you introduce that human/emotional element you are going to set your work apart from pretty much everyone else’s. Thanks for the comment.

    Dave, good to see you here again. Using post-concussion symptoms that way sounds very interesting, and, yes, pretty unique.

  • […] time ago on Magical Words David B. Coe talked about The Fear of Being Scooped because of reader responses from an earlier post he wrote, on Fears. This prompted an exercise from […]