Fear is killing my creativity

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ljkuhnley
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Fear is killing my creativity

Post by ljkuhnley » December 20th, 2010, 2:48 pm

I've been writing for years and the same problem keeps popping up from time to time. I have an idea, I develop it, fall in love with my story and characters and then, when I've invested a lot of time into my my story, I discover a published novel or movie that has elements so similar to my own that I fear that (1) I am not as creative as I thought, (2) That I will be accused of plagiarism, or (3) My work will be thought as "merely derivative".

Usually I remind myself that it's the execution that matters and that my own execution of the ideas will be unique.

Usually.

But other times, I feel overwhelmed by fear. No sooner do I commit to a project when it seems the writing fairies direct me to some book that does what I was going to do- only better.

For example, I worked on a book about a woman who dreams other people's dreams and gets stuck in someone's nightmare. I got stuck on the novel and a couple years later I decided to try again, only this time writing it as a young adult novel. The ideas started to flow. The same day, I randomly clicked on a contest link which turned out to be a promotion for Wake.

In another case I worked on a middle grade sci-fi novel for two years. I set it aside. I came back to it and within a week I discovered two different movies (one a foreign film from the 1970s and another made-for-TV film from the 1990s) with the same premise and some story elements that are very similar to my own.

Most recently, I have spent the better part of two years on another middle grade novel about a dragon who can't fly. I love this story. LOVE. I think the reason I haven't finished it is that I love it so much I can't bear to submit it until I'm certain that there's nothing more I can do with it. Unfortunately, since I started CEDRIC, I have read and watched How to Train Your Dragon. There are certain elements of Cedric that so similar that it would be hard to believe it isn't derivative.

1) The protagonist lives in a world where he's expected to be fierce but he's not. (In my book it's the dragon).
2) The dragon can't fly. (Movie version of How to Train Your Dragon.)
3) The story centers around a special initiation ceremony. (In my book it's Flying Day. In the book version of How to Train Your Dragon, it's a viking initiation.)

The facts that Cedric can't fly and is expected to be fierce are crucial elements to my story. I could change everything else about the story but the core is Cedric's emotional dynamic with his society which is symbolized by his inability to fly.

Again, I know it's the execution that counts but I fear that an agent or editor will take one look at my premise and assume that I'm just ripping off the already popular story.

To make matters worse, I can't help but read about a certain plagiarism lawsuit that I'm not even going to mention. I mean, how can you prove that you didn't read something? If you take any two books in the same genre you'd find enough similarities to make a stronger case for plagiarism than certain actual lawsuits. But the burden of proof is on you to somehow prove that you didn't steal the idea.

I know people say that there are no new ideas and that you can't copywrite an idea. But I spend a lot of time devoted to my stories. I generate hundreds of ideas and write at least ten pages of notes for every page of text I write. The idea that someone would accuse me of stealing eats me up inside. But I can't let my fear kill my creativity.

So...I'm hoping someone will tell me I'm stupid for worrying and to just write my books.

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Re: Fear is killing my creativity

Post by Margo » December 20th, 2010, 2:59 pm

ljkuhnley wrote:So...I'm hoping someone will tell me I'm stupid for worrying and to just write my books.
There are a lot of variables in what you're describing. Yes, some genres are very sensitive to the idea that an idea has already been used. Still, even in those genres, the general idea can usually be used a few times before the industry will start turning away all but the most exceptional debuts or the most established authors. The more specific the idea is, the harder it is to reuse. A story about a professor specializing in symbolism and secret societies. Probably no problem. A story about a professor specializing in symbolism and secret societies who gets involved in a religious thriller storyline. That's going to be harder. Add the vatican, that's another degree of difficulty. Add Mary Magdalen, and you've just rewritten The Da Vinci Code.

Some genres (and their readers), like romance and literary, are a lot more forgiving of common elements.

Are you worrying unnecessarily,...hmmm, probably. But I say that knowing little about the MG field in particular. It sounds like you've got 3 books? Why not get one super polished and send it off to a good agent and stop worrying until you actually have the agent tell you the idea has been used too often?
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Re: Fear is killing my creativity

Post by ljkuhnley » December 20th, 2010, 3:43 pm

Thanks Margo. Great response. I know what you mean about certain genres being more forgiving of common elements. I guess I worry more because I tend to gravitate towards high concept, commercial fiction.
Why not get one super polished and send it off to a good agent and stop worrying until you actually have the agent tell you the idea has been used too often?
That's probably the best idea. Although it means contending with my other writing issue. I have what you might call an obsession with story structure. Cedric has actually been on the back burner for a couple months while I contemplate major plot rewrites.

(I initially utilized a four-act structure and realized midway through my fourth draft that my transition between Acts II and III was weak. After serious consideration I realized that I was trying to do too much and given the genre and age group of the story that a simpler plot with a three act structure would be better.)

Anyway, thanks again for your response.

(By the way, I've read some of your other posts in the past and have enjoyed your insights. I'm an infrequent visitor to the boards but I hope to respond to more posts in the future.)

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Re: Fear is killing my creativity

Post by Sommer Leigh » December 20th, 2010, 3:49 pm

I'm going to say that you're probably worrying unnecessarily about this because I suffer from the same worry you do and I know I am worrying unnecessarily. That doesn't help stop the worrying, but it should stop you from abandoning your ideas.

I write YA and I'm currently writing a YA survival dystopian with zombies. I started working on it about 2 years ago and have been through a couple of drafts. A video game about zombies came out about 6 months after I started working on it and one of the characters was named the same name as my MC. I was a little unsettled but left her alone. Then about 9 months later, the sequel of that video game came out and one of the characters was named the same name as my MC's last name. So it looked like I'd stolen her first name from the first game and her last name from the sequel. I panicked and changed her last name.

Then I was reworking my main villain and gave him a new name and some new background. I got an email from Simon & Schuster about their new releases the day after I'd started my reworking only to discover a zombie novel being released on paperback that featured a similar villain background with the exact same first name. I immediately scrapped my villain and started over.

Then this year I was reading the book Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan, the sequel to The Forest of Hands and Teeth. This series is a YA zombie series that takes zombies very seriously,just like mine. She's a bit of a hero for me. So I'm reading the book and it is awesome and just toward the end there's a scene that resembles a scene from my WIP....complete with a line that was almost word for word the same. I had a minor panic attack. The scene was major and the line was an important revelation to the plot. I thought "That's it, my novel is sunk." I posted it about it. Later that day, author Carrie Ryan stopped by my blog to give me a pep talk. She told me that certain stories that have a similar element are bound to share similar bits. It doesn't mean anything. She encouraged me to keep going and not to worry about that stuff. You can't help it, and you shouldn't let it hamper you. I cried a bit. It was exactly what I needed to hear.

I think that when you have an idea, especially a genre like fantasy where you've probably read the same types of books as the other authors writing in fantasy, and you've see the same movies and television shows and you've shared the same influences, you are bound to strike on similar ideas. But similar ideas are everywhere. One story about a dragon that can't fly will never be the same as another, even if they share that one element. If it is a good story, it is a good story.

Finally, if you've got an element of your story that turns out to be similar to someone else's, take a step back and ask yourself if that element was the FIRST thing you thought of and if you went with it because it felt natural. Chances are, that's why it was in another story too. It was the first and obvious element that comes to mind. This might be an awesome excuse to pull up the NEXT idea, one that isn't necessarily so obvious. It will probably make for better storytelling anyway, and definitely make for more tension since if, as writers, you both chose the most obvious story element, the readers would also expect it as they probably have the same influences as you. Going for the less obvious option will keep readers on their toes and allow you to write the story you want to write.
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Re: Fear is killing my creativity

Post by Margo » December 20th, 2010, 3:49 pm

ljkuhnley wrote:Although it means contending with my other writing issue. I have what you might call an obsession with story structure. Cedric has actually been on the back burner for a couple months while I contemplate major plot rewrites.

(I initially utilized a four-act structure and realized midway through my fourth draft that my transition between Acts II and III was weak. After serious consideration I realized that I was trying to do too much and given the genre and age group of the story that a simpler plot with a three act structure would be better.)
Ahhh, she says knowingly. (Enjoy it, people. That's the only time you'll get an adverbial dialogue tag out of me. BAH!)

Is it possible you are misplacing your worry from its true source (an itching sense that the structure needs an overhaul) to a source you can't really do anything about (the idea might be overused)? Sometimes these kinds of undertakings can really feel like trying to jump into a pool of cold water. We stick a toe in. Ack! No, no ,no, no, I don't want to do it!
ljkuhnley wrote:(By the way, I've read some of your other posts in the past and have enjoyed your insights.
That is incredibly nice of you to say, and much appreciated.
ljkuhnley wrote:I'm an infrequent visitor to the boards but I hope to respond to more posts in the future.)
The more the merrier. The water is fine. :)
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Re: Fear is killing my creativity

Post by Margo » December 20th, 2010, 4:02 pm

Sommer Leigh wrote:by Sommer Leigh » 20 Dec 2010, 13:49
You can't post at 13:49! I was posting at 13:49! Mooooooooooooom, Sommer is posting in my time slot!
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Re: Fear is killing my creativity

Post by ljkuhnley » December 20th, 2010, 4:34 pm

Summer,

Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I've had so many similar moments and the panicky feeling that follows. I guess it's a side effect of reading so much. I know some people say they don't read while they're writing but stop reading? I couldn't possibly.

I think it's amazing the author herself responded to your post. Thank you for passing along her words of wisdom.

Thanks,

Lisa

--------------------------------

Margo,
Is it possible you are misplacing your worry from its true source (an itching sense that the structure needs an overhaul) to a source you can't really do anything about (the idea might be overused)? Sometimes these kinds of undertakings can really feel like trying to jump into a pool of cold water. We stick a toe in. Ack! No, no ,no, no, I don't want to do it!
You wouldn't happen to be a psychologist would you? Very keen insight. I fear, however, that perhaps my obsession with structure and the desire to do a overhaul might actually be a defensive response against honing the finer points of style. I would much rather replot an entire novel than deal with commas. I'm terrible.

But you are right, whatever the reason, my worry is clearly misplaced. Darn commas.

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Re: Fear is killing my creativity

Post by dios4vida » December 20th, 2010, 4:37 pm

ljkuhnley wrote:There are certain elements of Cedric that so similar that it would be hard to believe it isn't derivative.

1) The protagonist lives in a world where he's expected to be fierce but he's not. (In my book it's the dragon).
2) The dragon can't fly. (Movie version of How to Train Your Dragon.)
3) The story centers around a special initiation ceremony. (In my book it's Flying Day. In the book version of How to Train Your Dragon, it's a viking initiation.)

The facts that Cedric can't fly and is expected to be fierce are crucial elements to my story. I could change everything else about the story but the core is Cedric's emotional dynamic with his society which is symbolized by his inability to fly.

...

So...I'm hoping someone will tell me I'm stupid for worrying and to just write my books.
I won't tell you you're stupid, though I will tell you to just write your books.

I'm a huge fan of How to Train Your Dragon, I've watched it many many times. As I was reading your points above, I didn't see any problem with the similarities. If you hadn't brought up the movie and just told me about CEDRIC I wouldn't have made the connection. To be honest, I think CEDRIC sounds completely charming. I say keep writing it, polish it up, don't obsess but make it the best you can, and then submit submit submit!! I seriously do not see a problem with plagiarism.

We all go through these same issues from time to time, but the best we can do is to keep writing what we want to write. If you're truly concerned, then give it to an impartial beta and see what they say. Just ask for a general opinion, then after they read it ask if they saw a similarity to <fill in the blank>. At that point you might get an "oh, yeah, I guess I do!" but that answer shouldn't bother you. It should only raise suspicions if the beta mentions it without any prompting from you. Chances are, with the love and paranoia we have for our stories, we see waaaay more problems with it than others will.

<whip cracking> Now go write your stories!! :)
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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Re: Fear is killing my creativity

Post by ljkuhnley » December 20th, 2010, 4:46 pm

Thank you dios4vida,

It's great to hear from a fan of How to Train Your Dragon. I'd love to hear what you thought about the difference between the book version and the movie version. I thought both were terrific (although when I tried to read the book aloud to my son I struggled with some of the names). I thought the film makers did a great job of staying true to the heart of the story while making significant changes to the plot and character dynamics.

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Re: Fear is killing my creativity

Post by Sommer Leigh » December 20th, 2010, 5:27 pm

Margo wrote:
Sommer Leigh wrote:by Sommer Leigh » 20 Dec 2010, 13:49
You can't post at 13:49! I was posting at 13:49! Mooooooooooooom, Sommer is posting in my time slot!
I WAS FIRST SO I WIN.
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Re: Fear is killing my creativity

Post by Margo » December 20th, 2010, 5:32 pm

ljkuhnley wrote:You wouldn't happen to be a psychologist would you?
:) Marriage and Family Therapist. By education only, though (student practicum hours notwithstanding). I never pursued my license.
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Re: Fear is killing my creativity

Post by cheekychook » December 20th, 2010, 9:46 pm

I'm going to toss in my two cents on this as well. It's quite possible that you're seeing the similarities and parallels in other stories simply because you are/were so immersed in the ones you're writing. Whenever I am working on something I get so caught up in it that I see references to it everywhere I look. It's like when you're in love and every song on the radio is about love (or you're breaking up with someone and every song you hear is about breaking up---sure there are common threads and themes and storylines everywhere, but they're more significant to you because of where your head is at that moment. I may or may not be making sense because I'm going on no sleep and bit of a sugar/christmas wrapping/holiday stress high, but I'm serious about what I'm trying to say---don't despair, your work is likely not as derivative/similar/etc as you fear.
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Re: Fear is killing my creativity

Post by Mira » December 20th, 2010, 11:06 pm

Yes, please, please stop worrying, and focus on writing. :)

I understand your fear, I have flashes of it myself. But the reality of it is:

a. your fear is totally justified, everything is derivative and

b. that's not even remotely a problem.

I read once there are three basic plots. They are:

•Man against man,
•Man against nature,
•Man against himself

Everything else is just sub-plotting along those lines. And when you come down to the subplots, everything was pretty much covered by Shakespeare, so there you are.

Another way of saying this is all stories work with human archtypes. Your plot: "The protagonist lives in a world where he's expected to be fierce but he's not" is an archtypal conflict found in thousands of stories. All archtypes are found in thousands of stories. And you want that. You want a story that works with an age old archtype. It will speak to people. For a story to have depth or meaning or communicate anything of value, it needs to touch on a basic archtype, which means it will echo a plot that has been told thousands of times before. But not in YOUR WAY.

I think you said it's all in the execution, and I agree. The details, the twists, the style, your world choice, but especially the voice that tells your story make it unique. Voice is original. It belongs to you. So, I think what you're after isn't complete originality of plot - that's impossible - it's your own personal stamp - your voice and the story your voice will tell when you let it.

After all, even on this thread, many of us are saying similar things to you, but our posts aren't the same. You could have hundreds of people say the same thing, but they will all say it in their own way.

So, stop worrying and go write! Them's my two cents. :)

p.s. If you're really worried about being accused of plagerism, because I know weird things like that can happen, then you might periodically e-mail drafts to yourself and file them in an e-mail folder. These are date stamped and they are proof you didn't plagerize.

Good luck, LJ!

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Re: Fear is killing my creativity

Post by ljkuhnley » December 20th, 2010, 11:46 pm

Cheekychook,

I know exactly what you mean. I once had a crush on a guy who drove a Volvo. I'm not sure I'd ever even seen a Volvo before and then I started seeing them everywhere.

- - - - -

Mira,
Another way of saying this is all stories work with human archtypes. Your plot: "The protagonist lives in a world where he's expected to be fierce but he's not" is an archtypal conflict found in thousands of stories. All archtypes are found in thousands of stories. And you want that.
That's a great point. I guess maybe it's a case of not seeing the forest for the trees. As Cheekychook said, I get so caught up in the details of my own story that I start seeing them everywhere. Asa result I sometimes lose sight of the big picture elements such as archtypes and themes.

And as for voice, you're absolutely right. My favorite books are the ones with voices so strong that I'd recognize out of context. And speaking of great voices, I still remember your earwig story from Nathan's contest last year. I really loved that.

I'm still developing my own voice(s) and style. I'm suspecting my difficulty is that I have more than one voice and I sometimes have trouble getting them to play well together.

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Re: Fear is killing my creativity

Post by Mira » December 21st, 2010, 4:59 pm

LJ - wow, thanks for remembering my story! That truly means alot to me - thank you. :)

I'm not an expert in any sense of the word, but I think the best way to develop voice is practice, practice, practice. I think it emerges on it's own through time, and get stronger and more pure the more you use it. Sort of like a sculpter, chipping away what doesn't belong. That's the image I get, anyway.....which means, at the bottom of it, you need to write, and not let stuff stop you! :)

(And I'm saying that for myself as well - I tend to get very frozen for very long periods of time, so I really identify!)

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