Retroactive Idea Thievery

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Retroactive Idea Thievery

Postby JohnDurvin » 26 Apr 2011, 08:47

So I wrote an amazing book, but someone that read it took a time-machine back to the late 1970's and stole my ideas for a series of influential novels. Now everybody thinks HE came up with them first, just because his books were published before I was born.

I know we recently discussed what to do when you're writing a book and it turns out someone has already written something similar, but that was for non-fiction--I'm in sci-fi, and despite my never having read the series, a lot of my major ideas are very similar to themes used in Iain M. Banks' "The Culture" series. My delivery and tone are completely different, but my two major alien races are pretty direct counterparts to two of his. Specifically, my Flavorzoids are a care-free, hyper-advanced race that makes a habit of donating their technology to lesser species they deem worthy to alleviate boredom; Banks' Culture is a race of bored, hyper-advanced aristocrats that do the same thing. My Wilsonians are bombastic roach-like aliens that claim to be the heirs of a long-dead galactic empire; his Oct are depressing crab-like aliens that do the same thing. We also use similar terms to describe the peculiar technology of interstellar society. I know you're never going to have a completely original book, it just worries me that there's so much similarity between mine and this well-known, widely-imitated octology. If I was even ripping off one thing from one author and others from others, I wouldn't be worried, but it's all the same books by the same guy.

So what do I do--change it? Ignore it? Or in the language of 'TV Tropes', lampshade it (point it out in a joking fashion so readers know I know)?
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Re: Retroactive Idea Thievery

Postby polymath » 26 Apr 2011, 12:11

The issue I see is one of motifs' underlying meanings. What is the meaning of an advanced race giving away technology because they're bored? Or another race claiming galactic empire sovereignty by a presupposed right of succession? The former strikes me as a reflection of Western-Soviet Cold War checkbook diplomacy. The latter, geocentric primacy similar to ethnic unrest in disputed territories as an excuse for genocide and/or hegemony.

Regardless, when a subconscious mind is in play, similar motifs arise because similar current and ongoing events span multiple creative minds. The best answer I have for going forward is to examine the meanings, intended and perhaps not fully realized, of motifs relative to a central theme. Original motif creation thrives more on unique underlying meanings and profound, novel insights into the human condition than surface meanings.
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Re: Retroactive Idea Thievery

Postby J. T. SHEA » 26 Apr 2011, 12:24

Steal Banks' time machine, go back in time to the seventies and bump him off. Then write another novel about a writer who steals another writer's time machine, goes back in time, bumps him off and writes another novel about a writer who steals...

BTW, a Flavorzoid sounds like an edible robot.
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Re: Retroactive Idea Thievery

Postby TheZies » 26 Apr 2011, 15:08

J. T. SHEA wrote:Steal Banks' time machine, go back in time to the seventies and bump him off. Then write another novel about a writer who steals another writer's time machine, goes back in time, bumps him off and writes another novel about a writer who steals...

BTW, a Flavorzoid sounds like an edible robot.



i was thinking the same thing. This sounds like a book. A book that has probably all ready been written also .
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Re: Retroactive Idea Thievery

Postby Josin » 29 Apr 2011, 08:03

TheZies wrote:
J. T. SHEA wrote:Steal Banks' time machine, go back in time to the seventies and bump him off. Then write another novel about a writer who steals another writer's time machine, goes back in time, bumps him off and writes another novel about a writer who steals...

BTW, a Flavorzoid sounds like an edible robot.



i was thinking the same thing. This sounds like a book. A book that has probably all ready been written also .



Not a book, but it was a terrific short story.

A writer submits a MS to a publisher (it was written a while ago, when writers could do that sort of thing easier). The publisher writes back with "Ha - good one. This is the MS for [really big book]! Thanks for the laugh." The writer is confused, but when all of his replies are the same, he writes another book and sends it off. He gets the same answer. Over and over and over. Finally one of them tells him that if he's interested in selling the books (the bound copies), they'd be worth a fortune, as they're exceptionally rare.

The writer then pens a masterpiece about how some writer in the thirties is psychically linked to him there in the (80's?) and stealing his ideas as he gets them. I can't remember if it ends with the book being published or if that was the old writer's "unfinished masterpiece" which he was writing before he died.
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Re: Retroactive Idea Thievery

Postby knight_tour » 29 Apr 2011, 08:11

I can so relate to this. I had a title I really loved for a sci-fi book, but when I Googled it, someone had already used it. Their story had nothing to do with mine, but I still felt the need to change mine.

Then, I made up an offbeat name for a character in my first fantasy book - Sir Victus. I figured it had to be unique, right? Nope. I read Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie and a minor character in there was named Victus. Argh. I can't even tell if mine came first, since I wrote it five years ago, but it doesn't matter since his got published and mine has not yet been.

My latest sci-fi book has a few chapters posted for critique. The first person to crit it said he felt as if he had read my main character's story a thousand times. Sigh. I have not read any books like this character's story, and while there are certainly zillions of books I still need to get to, I can't imagine that I have somehow missed 'thousands'. The only thing I could see that would strike the person that way was the fact that there were mobsters in it and it was a thriller that has chase scenes. You pretty much can't get away from that in a, you know...thriller.
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Re: Retroactive Idea Thievery

Postby Sundance » 29 Apr 2011, 11:26

Oooh, what an interesting thread. Ergo: delurk mode. Yes.

John, there are two main thoughts that your post inspires me, I believe.

The first is: when writing genre fiction, well, it's probably pretty darn important to know your genre. To read the masters, or at least to know about their work. Not just to avoid your current misadventure: I think it's Charlie Stross who observed that science fiction is a pretty tightly knit world, with writers constantly building onto each other's ideas. I don't have to tell you what a Dyson sphere or a generation ship are, because the concepts have already been developed by others; now we can use them with no string attached, and concentrate on the higher purpose of storytelling. And maybe build our own new ideas on top of theirs, for others still to reuse later on. Till then: let's keep reading.

The second is: what defines a writer is a unique voice, not necessarily a unique universe. From your brief overview of your novel, you've managed to convey to me something painted in very different colors from the works of Banks. So surface details match; my point is, maybe it doesn't matter. IMB's Culture universe is a canvas onto which he draws intricate plots with complex political and moral conundrums. You're going to use an outwardly similar canvas for entirely different stories, your stories. And that's fine. Especially in the genre of sci-fi, which, as said, reuses concepts a lot.

For sure, your work will get compared to that of Banks. Big deal, it's a flattering comparison! Maybe it's like negative reviews: it's bound to happen, so try not to let it get to you, and keep writing.

From there, the next stop is pretty obvious, I think. Get those Culture novels and devour them. I daresay you'll enjoy them; Banks is a brilliant writer with a vivid voice and a knack at constructing complex morally ambiguous situations. While there, I believe, you'll discover that your work and his are not so similar after all; only you can write your own stories, and if Banks were try, he'd fail big time.
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