What do you do when you discover a notable writer has already covered your plot?

One time or another, I’m sure this has happened to everyone who writes. You come up with a great idea, a compelling idea; an idea you are absolutely certain is a fresh angle on the crime fiction genre. You start doing your research, you sketch out characters that are as original as your plot, and its just a matter of a hundred thousand or so words before you have a killer piece of writing on your hands……then it happens, you discover that a notable writer has already written your story.

This very incident happened to me earlier this week. In the process of reading Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress, it crushed me to discover that he beat me to the punch and wrote a terrific crime drama that involved much of the same plot and themes I had planned for my own story.

The similarities between Mr. Mosley’s story and mine are as follows: Walter Mosley’s story is set against the backdrop of a Los Angeles mayoral campaign in the late 40’s and explores racism as one of its central themes. My story is set against the backdrop of the Tom Bradley mayoral campaign in 1973 Los Angeles, and explores racism as one of the central themes.

This leaves me wondering if I should plow forward with my story anyway and risk having the story compared to Devil in a Blue Dress, or if I should just move on to a new idea.

I know every plot has been done a hundred times, but Devil in a Blue Dress is a notable piece of crime fiction that all publishers are certain to be familiar with as both a novel and a successful movie.

So I pose this conundrum to my fellow CrimeSpace members: When a similar situation like this happens to you, do you continue to write the story, or do you climb into bed, ball yourself into the fetal position and cry yourself to sleep?

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Write your book is my recommendation. Racism is a theme, not a plot, and a mayoral election part of your setting? What are the plot similarities, if indeed there are any? Even if there are some plot elements in common, perhaps you've heard "It's all in the execution."
I agree with Eric; write your book. There is no such thing as a 'fresh angle on a new plot.' They don't exist. Writers have been writing for generations now--there's only so many ways a human being can act and react. And they've all been covered over and over and over.

So the only thing to do is to write your version of that story. How you compose it--how your words flow from the page into the reader's conscience--makes the difference. The only orginality in any plot is how the writer writes it.
Any book set in L.A. in the late '60s/early '70s that didn't contain at least some discussion of race issues probably wouldn't ring very true-to-life. I think as long as you're not doing 1st person from the POV of a black detective living in Watts who has a psychopathically violent sidekick named after a rodent you're probably okay.
What do you want to do? I say, do that. Writing isn't just for the masses. It's for us, too.

MK
www.minervakoenig.com
Your setting in the 1970s will make it sufficiently different, your style will make it your own, an oblique reference or two to Devil in a Blue Dress will delight the readers who've read it and, if you like, signfies that you're aware of it as a literary and historical predecessor. Indeed, as a reader, I'd be interested in what's the same and what's different between 1940s and 1970s racism in Los Angeles, and how the city and its mores have changed.

I recently read a scene in Good Omens that, in the wonderful joint style of Pratchett and Gaiman, mimicked one I'd hope to write in my current book or book 3. I was disappointed, then realized many authors who have watched or played paintball have likely imagined a similar variation.
Thanks for everyone's suggestions. Every post provides sound advice, and echoed the little voice inside of me telling me to rally forth.

I really didn't want to bog everyone down with the details of my story's plot because I felt it distracted from the larger question I posed about "What to do when you discover a notable writer has already covered your plot?" I'd like to hear about experiences from my fellow authors about how they have encountered a similar dilemma and how they confronted the challenge.

Again, thanks for all replies. Terrific advice!
Yes, as publishers, we'll all know Mosley's book, but what you're describing are only the broadest of similarities -- there's a huge amount of room in the plot, characters, atmosphere (the 70s aren't the 40s, after all), style, etc. to make yours a completely different book. So don't worry about it, just write the hell out of your novel. Good luck.
It is virtually impossible to end up with the same book as another writer's. There are too many separate parts involved. For me, plot is not terribly significant in the first place. Should I ever find myself with the same plot idea as another, all I would have to do would be to switch some characters. It's amazing what that will do to a story. Of course, one hopes it happens in the planning stage, or there will be a big rewrite.
It's according to how close it is. There are so many people writing and publishing today that it is more probable that someone will write your "plot" than not. But even though a plot is similar, or even exact, you can still write it.

I still remember a book that I wrote and circulated that was published a few years later by another author with my plot AND my title. But it was about a relatively notorious event, and the title was an obvious one.

It happens. Put the book aside for a while. Look at it again when your well into another project. Does it still work? Do it.

Life and careers are too short to spend time lamenting things that you have no control over.

Jack Bludis
As they say, there's nothing new under the sun, and that especially goes for book plots/themes. What makes it unique is the way YOU write it, so write it, make it yours, make it special. Don't let the similarity of the stories stop you.
Unless your plot is similar to a famous high concept, i.e., "An aquaphobic sheriff moves to a small town and must contend with a man-eating shark," you're probably good. 100,000 words gives you a lot of leeway.
I definitely say go ahead and write your book. There are so many similarities in books today, it is mind boggling. It really depends upon how you write it. You've read Mosley's book, so don't make yours a clone of his. Different characters react to situations in different ways. L.A. is a big city with thousands of stories just waiting to be told. I would suspect that you can find parallels in almost every plot you come up with.

I remember just before "A Corpse in the Soup" was released, my sister and co-author took a book out of the library (can't remember the name or author) that was similar in plot. At first, as new authors, we panicked. Then, in reading the book, we realized that although the theme was similar, both of the books were definite stand alones because of the characters, and out style of writing.

MORGAN ST. JAMES
www.silversistersmysteries.com

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