People assume that writers steal ideas from other people. But in my experience, what's much more common is coming up with what you think is an original idea and then having the horrible expereince of watching a movie/TV show, or reading a book where exactly the same thing happens.

For example, I was watching the fantastic Paul Verhoven flick Black Book on DVD a couple of nights ago and thinking what a magnificent performace Clarice van Houten gave as the lead character - and wouldn't she be great as the heroine if they ever actually filmed my book: this is what James Twining calls 'casturbation' - when it suddenly struck me that there's a really significant plot/characterisation line in Black Book that is absolutely identical to the central emotional theme in the book I've just started.

Since my book has already had to be totally re-planned once, after at least half-a-dozen elements of my original plot appeared in the last series of 24, this is (to put it mildly) effing annoying.

So am I the only one who drives his family nuts because I can't watch a film without seeing if it has similarities to something I have written, or am writing?

Or are we all equally paranoid?

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It's tough when you think you've come up with an original idea...only to see it "in the works" or even a similar topic published elsewhere. But, the bottom line is, we all have unique writing voices and my treatment of a subject is never going to be the same as brand x author's treament of the same thing. It's rough, it's tough, and yes, it's challenging to come up with original plots and premises. I think of it as just another joy and challenge of the craft and the business.
You see? I've never even heard of Laura Joh Rowland. But now I've looked her up on Amazon and got that, 'Oh, bollocks!' (good old English expression, there) feeling again. Better check up all her plot-descriptions, just to make sure none of them are the same as the one I've had in mind these past six or seven years ...
NO! You're not alone. I had a novel all planned, all plotted, all set to go, and ... the hinge twist at the end turned out to have been written by someone only a year or two before. There is no way I could have written that book without seeming to copycat.

But if you look too much, you find similarities everywhere. Maybe that's why some writers refuse to read in their genre, at least while they're writing. (Which always begs the question, when do you stop writing? How long? Why?)
When you said 'copycat' you reminded me of something else ... the fact that if you happen to write something and it's a hit, you van guarantee someone will come out of the woodwork, saying, 'Hey, that was my idea,' and brandishing a lawsuit. I remember interviewing Michael crichton a few years back. That had happened to him with jurassic Park and even tho' everyone knew the suit was bullsh*t from the word go, it didn't stop it dragging on for a couple of years, driving him crazy, making it almost impossible tot hinka bout anything else and costing a fortune.

But with 6 billion people on this planet and - what is it? - seven basic stories, or something, the odds say nothing's really that original ...
My novel WHOO?? features a character who is a reporter for the National Police Gazette. I read a blurb last week that James Ellroy is working on a novel titled Police Gazette. It may work to my advantage...
Just so long as your book hits the streets before his does!
True. And mine should. It bothered me most in that I wanted to expand on my character in the future. Depending on what Ellroy comes up with now before I consider it.
If you get your book out first then Ellroy can - to use a handy Anglo-Saxon phrase - do one. It's his problem. You go out and publish as often as you like. You got a First Amendment out there, right? I say, use it!

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