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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The book I am currently working on has my two elderly ex hooker protagonists originally plotting to steal a Faberge egg from a museum until someone said to me "Oh, like in Oceans 12?" Shit. I have never seen Oceans 12. However, now I have them planning to steal something which has given me far more fun to write about, so I'm glad someone had already done the Faberge egg thing. As well as taking me in a slightly different direction, it also gave me a new character who I am enjoying writing about.

And last year I read 2 books back to back that actually had the same central idea, but it was only a while after I had finished the second that the similarity struck me. The books were so different in lots of ways. I think if you put 10 authors in a room and gave them the same starting idea you would get 10 completely different books.
Two elderly ex-hookers? Now THAT's intriguing, in an 'Ewww...' kind of way! I mean, just HOW elderly are we talking here? But I completely know that feeling, when you're describing a great new idea and someone goes, 'That's just like ...' And you're also right that it's best to know early because then you avoid embarrassment and, as you have done, think of something even better
Late 60s/early 70s. But don't worry, they gave up hooking to become con artists :o)
Why stop then? Chase the Grey Pound, that's what I say. Eighty percent of all the wealth in Britain is held by the over-50s. Those old boys can afford to pay for it!
Hmm, how about being halfway through my second novel, about five students who accidentally kill another student and don't own up, when.... no not "The Secret History" which I knew about but thought was very different... I sit down and see a trailer on Channel 4 for "I Know What You Did Last Summer"! Work stopped for two months. I didn't watch the film but got hold of the original book of "I Know What You Did..." and it was different enough to reassure me slightly. Then a friend told me to get a grip, that my book would be my book, no matter what the similarities of plot. So I went on and finished it - Among the Dead. And no one who's read it has suggested a comparison with "I Know What You Did...", and the few comparisons there have been relate to Tartt's book instead. (Incidentally, I think Val McD has tackled similar territory as well)

So, I suppose the secret is, if you stay true to your own style, your own themes, etc, you don't need to worry too much about the originality of the plot. Donna's book will not be like Ocean's 12, except in the casting of George Clooney in the movie version. Likewise, Tom, I'm pretty sure you'll bring your own aesthetic to the table.
That is so true. As a writer, you're always hyper-aware of everything that seems even remotely similar to your own work. But the average reader just sees what's in front of them and unless it's an absolutely blatant steal, doesn't think about anything else. And even if they do, so what? A few years ago, I did a couple of newspaper pieces picking up on all the elements in Harry Potter that were similar to classic children's or fantasy novels - the similarities to Lord of the Rings alone were endless. But it didn't do JK Rowling any harm.

The thing I tell myself is, it's all about how you combine your elements, how you tell your story, how you build your characters. It's like the blues ... you can have the same three chords and the same 8 or 12 bars ... but the results can be totally different, depending on who's playing.

But even so ... I still get REALLY pissed-off when I see one of 'my' ideas in someone else's book or movie!
Kevin - none of those entered my head when I was reading AMONG THE DEAD, although I also read and enjoyed the Val McDermid. But they were totally different books.

Not sure about George Clooney, but there's a role for Johnny Depp. Not in the film, just on my casting couch ;o)
Well I have read and enjoyed Secret History, I know what you did, and the Distant Echo at different times in my life, and never felt that any of them were just derivatives of any of the others. And all very different styles of story. So as a reader I completely agree with your sentence "if you stay true to your own style, your own themes, etc, you don't need to worry too much about the originality of the plot"
There were other books and at least one movie about a gangster in therapy before David Chase wrote The Sopranos.

I wrote a novel (that didn't sell) about a tobacco ad man and every time I told someone what I was working on they said, "Oh, like Thank You For Smoking." No, I wish it had been that good.

I don't think anyone has any truly unique plotlines or plot twists. It's all been done before. Even Shakespeare took his plots from someone else. So everything is in the execution.

You'll still cringe, but write it anyway and write it better. Fuck 'em.
Oh yes, I'm paranoid. I write historical mysteries set in 11th century Japan, and immediately people made comparisons to Van Gulik's Judge Dee series. I'm a fan of Van Gulik's novels and because the times and the two cultures are very similar, some of my background matter resembles that in Van Gulik's Tang China series. I have never made a secret of the fact that I knew and admired Van Gulik's books, but no part of any of my plots or any character is the same as Van Gulik's. In fact, both my protagonist as well as my narrative approach are completely different.
Yet it took only one reader comment (in Germany!) that I had borrowed from Van Gulik to make me go back and remove all references to the Dee series from my author's notes. A great pity, for I still think Van Gulik's work was wonderful.
Yeah, I bet Raphael Hollinshed was seriously p*ssed off that Will Shakespeare based so many of his history plays on Holshed's Chronicles ... so this subject has a long and noble tradition!

And memo to IJParker ... the book I really want to write, the one I've had to put on hold because of the distraction caused by my current book The Accident Man and its sequel(s), is set in 18th century Japan. Just want that on the record, right now, so that neither of us reads the other's book and goes .. That was MY idea!
Okay, Tom. :) I won't touch 18th century in Japan. All of mine are much earlier. But what about Laura Joh Rowland? Isn't she in the 18th century?
But seriously, even if you were to pick up a plot idea some place, what happens when you develop it your own way is that it becomes a completely new work. Shakespeare knew that. And Chaucer did, too.


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