When Someone Else Writes Your Idea

I’ve faced this issue multiple times: I've had a great idea for a story – perhaps I've even started writing it – and then I happen to pick up an already-published book, or watch a movie or TV show, and there’s my story smirking back at me.

I’m convinced my so-called muse got fed up with me a few years ago and packed up and astro-travelled to Hollywood where she happily provided the scriptwriters of the StarGate shows with all my ideas. In my first few years of my writing career I scrapped a good half-dozen ideas after seeing them realised on that franchise.

Now I know I needn’t have hit delete after all. As disconcerting as it is to discover that other writers have a similar thought process to you, it’s important to realise that almost all of our ideas are derivative. According to Georges Polti, there are only thirty-seven dramatic plot strand definitions around which a plot-based story can be constructed.

The solution to the dilemma of writing something that turns out to be similar to another story that you may not even have read or know about is characterisation. It is your characters who make your story unique. Give your characters strong, convincing motivations and allow your plot to move fluidly based on the actions of the characters. It is your unique perspective that shapes your characters (even if they’re nothing like you) and therefore your story will be unique if you put character first and plot second.

Luckily I saved some of my favourite characters from the stories I scrapped and found a new story for them to drive. But going forward I’ll be less inclined to panic and delete when I discover someone else has already used my idea.

How about you? Did you find this helpful? Are you caught up in the mire of writing a novel? Frustrated by the blinking cursor? Depressed by your blank pages, soggy plot, or characters who've gone on strike?

My Fully Booked Programme is designed to help you at every point in the creation process - not just the dreaded editing phase. I assess your story and you start the programme with the action you need to take next... with a developmental editor helping you every step of the way.

You can click here to go find out more or join the programme.

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Elle Carter Neal

Elle Carter Neal is the author of teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin. She has been telling stories for as long as she can remember, holding childhood slumber-party audiences entranced until the early hours of the morning. Elle decided to be an author the day she discovered that real people wrote books and that writing books was (sort of) a real job.

5 thoughts on “When Someone Else Writes Your Idea”

  1. “it’s important to realise that almost all of our ideas are derivative”

    And that’s why copyright does not cover ideas, only the expression of those ideas.

    Cheers,
    DavidM

  2. It’s actually quite important that your book IS similar to one already published. When I was at the lit fetival at LSE the men who spoke on how best sellers happen spoke about how important “comps” are. Comps are books that are comparable to yours. So though we all want to be original, no idea is truly new as you’ve said Elsa.

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