IWSG / Paranoia

Today’s the day for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG) where, on the first Wednesday of every month, writers get together to share their insecurities and offer encouragement. The IWSG was created by Alex J. Cavanaugh, and you can learn all about it and sign up for it here.

This will be my first IWSG post and as an aspiring author on the verge of self-publishing my first book, I’m finding myself in the insecure category more often than I’d like.

I write in the fantasy genre, and recently I’ve been reading some old fantasy novels I bought back in the 1980s and ’90s that I’d never gotten around to reading before. Every so often, I run across a name or a place or a plot circumstance that is similar to something in my book, and I get really paranoid that I’ll publish my book and then someone will read it and say one of my characters or a part of my story is just like some other novel published years ago (that I’ve never read) and accuse me of plagiarism or of being a copycat and ripping off other authors’ stories or… well you get the idea.

For example, in the book I’m currently reading, Aurian, by Maggie Furey, (published in 1994), I discovered that part of the backstory/history of the main character’s world includes a clash of magical beings referred to as the Cataclysm and Mage Wars. Now my story, that I’ve been working on in bits and pieces for almost thirty years, also has a clash of magics called the Cataclysm. Granted, the Cataclysm in my novel happens on a much smaller scale, but it does similarly involve an ancient race of magical beings whose magical battle also changes the very fiber of a part of my fictional world. And there are Wizard Wars in my novel’s history, as well.

I know Mage/Wizard Wars and magical clashes are not original by any means. But when I read something similar to events or characters in my book — like the use of the word Cataclysm — I get paranoid. Is it just me or does anyone else ever worry about this kind of thing?

43 thoughts on “IWSG / Paranoia

  1. I don’t read enough fantasy to know, but in my genre, there are similar themes and similar ideas. I’m of that school of thought that there is no truly original ideas left in the world, but we each bring our own ideas and perspective on similar themes. No need to be paranoid. If anything, the reader will relate more having a sense of familiarity with such fantastic themes. Good luck.

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  2. You’re not alone. I write thrillers and constantly notice when Brad Thor or one of the popular thriller writers encroaches on topics in my WIP. I even threw the phrase ‘Katy bar the door’ into my WIP, thinking it was so old it would be knew. Wouldn’t you know I’ve read it twice since in new thrillers. Now, I’ll look like a copycat.

    Sigh.

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  3. Welcome to the IWSG! I write science fiction, and I have a great appreciation for fantasy. I also understand your paranoia perfectly. I’ve seen published writers be accused of plagiarism or ripping off someone else’s work, regardless of whether the writer in question has ever read the thing they’re accused of copying. Unfortunately, I fear that this is highly likely to happen if your work becomes well known. Try not to let it get to you. We can’t know everything that’s out there, and there are bound to be incidental similarities to other works. However, if you tell a compelling story in your own voice, I think you should be okay. Good luck!

    http://lgkeltner.blogspot.com/

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  4. You’re not alone! I write and read fantasy. I just finished a book 2 days ago where the first half made me say “doh!” over and over again. Every few pages, I hit a mental comparison between my book and the one I was reading. Oh look, this guy from our world is suddenly sucked into another world where he has to figure out how to get home… and now he’s traveling through a forest…and doh!

    They say there are no original ideas. It’s just figuring out how to spin the old tales in a new way.

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  5. I can only echo what others have said (which is rather fitting here!) Only you can tell your story in your own way. There are lots of books with dragons, but they’re far from being all the same. I wrote a novel about a man with memory loss who was abused by his partner, then a very popular book came out about a woman with memory loss who is abused by her partner. After getting over that, I shelved the book, but more because I just went off it. Just concentrate on telling the best story you possibly can.

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  6. I think that happens all the time. There are only so many ideas under the sun. It’s how we put them together that makes them unique. Just trust your story and go for it.
    And welcome to the IWSG!

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  7. First of all, congratulations on the huge step and courage toward self-publishing. I considered this for a few years straight and fell short of courage so KUDOS!!! Uh, one time I came across a MOVIE, yes, a movie with many elements that matched a book I had written before I knew the movie existed. Guess what? I was thrilled! I was excited that great minds think alike and that my story wasn’t so cheesy after all until I brought this up to a few fellow writers. They freaked out and told me it wasn’t a good thing. Uh, it’s not??? O.O I guess I’m just weird that way, but it doesn’t matter to me when I’m wearing the same dress as the other girl, what I do worry is that people will think I copied them. Is that it?

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    • Thanks so much! That’s amazing about the movie, and I like your perspective on it — “great minds think alike.” Yes, the idea that people will think I copied them is what worries me sometimes. But I know I haven’t copied anyone and I can’t control others’ opinions, so I just need to carry on and shut the worries out.

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  8. Hi, Lori! I know exactly what you mean. I often think of ideas that are already out there. I agree with what others have said here – that we can only focus on writing the best story we can, and try not to worry too much about what has been done before. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing yours in print!

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  9. Welcome IWSG,

    Some would say the similar ideas are called the collective consciousness of the universe that we all tap into, so share similar ideas. I read that somewhere. I think it is a pretty common fear and occurrence. It also sort of proves there is nothing new under the sun. It is all in the perspective. And yes, that worry does cross my mind. It is kind of like when I buy a certain type of car, I never see one on the road till I have it, and then I see them all over the place.

    Juneta at Writer’s Gambit

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    • The collective consciousness of the universe — what a fascinating idea! I know what you mean about the car. It seems like the minute you buy something new, everyone else suddenly has one too. Thanks for the encouragement!

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    • Thanks! It started as a place I would go in my mind when doing boring or repetitive chores. This was back in the mid-1980s. Then I began writing the story down and it became a hobby I loved more than any other. The story evolved over the years and got better as my writing improved. Now I’m finally at the point where I think it’s ready to go.

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  10. Maybe that book struck a chord with you and sat in your subconscious? Sorry, my Psychology minor coming out a bit there! I just found your blog via the IWSG that Elizabeth Mueller directed me to and I am finding more and more people that have the same insecurities as me. (Yesss!) Currently, I am working on a book with a long time friend. She came up with this idea and it has stuck with us for years, so we finally decided I’d start writing it and she’d provide the storyline. It’s hard to do that as it’s not my idea, but the more I type (21K words so far) the more I am getting into this world. And, if my research in libraries and on the internet is correct, there is not a book like this out there. So, I am paranoid that if I don’t get it out there fast, someone will snap up this idea and I’ll be angry that I wasn’t quick enough. But, then again, you have to do your best work when writing and that can’t be rushed. So, it definitely is a blender of emotions when writing and hoping you are original!

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    • I hadn’t read the book until now, so I don’t know where the idea came from. I would find it hard, too, to write a book based on someone else’s idea. It’s such a Catch-22. As you said, you want to get it out there but still have good quality. Best of luck with it and thanks for visiting!

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  11. I think the plots could be similar, but the story and POV radically different. Imagine how Madame Bovary would sound from the POV of either of the men…I’m sure the setting you have is dealt with in a very different way story-wise, than what you read.

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  12. Now there’s an interesting thought. Madame Bovary would certainly be different! And there are many differences in my book compared to the one I’m reading, so I should be okay. Thanks for the support!

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  13. I write about time travel, and I will admit that I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from a certain TV show called Doctor Who. I’m still waiting for someone to call me out as a copycat, but so far no one has… probably because I’ve taken just as much inspiration from other sources as well, and the Doctor Who-ness has gotten lost in the mix.

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  14. Yes! I’ve had that same fear at times! I think everything’s been “done before”, but we can’t let that stop us from writing what we want. But it is frustrating when I read a book or hear about the theme of a book and think, “that is so similar to what I just wrote.” Ahhh!

    And remember, your voice, characters, and circumstances still make it uniquely different. YOU might be the only one who even sees the similarities.

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  15. Welcome to IWSG! I think it’s very hard not to find similarities across different works by different people but it’s in how we tell the stories in our own unique way. Good luck with your book!

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  16. Pingback: Celebrate the Small Things | Writing, Reading, and the Pursuit of Dreams

  17. Welcome to the IWSG!

    I think every writer comes across this problem. A lot. I know I have. And if you can believe it, I noticed similarities between E.L. James’ erotic trilogy and my (unpublished) supernatural-thriller series. I could NOT believe it and fretted that people would think I stole her ideas, although I had written my scenes well before there even was a Christian Grey. Before Twilight even. But then I got over it, because our stories, despite those similarities, are vastly different. I do still notice similarities in my romantic-suspense stories and other stories like them. It’s hard to be totally original. I don’t think anyone would mind that you use the same words like Cataclysm, though, as long as you make your story different.

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  18. Hello Lori and welcome to IWSG posting. I hope you will continue. All writers worry about this to a point, but as wide readers we are sure to pick up some words, ideas etc which may find themselves in our stories and this can’t be helped. There is no copyright on ideas per se, but of course there is in the creation of a story based on these common ideas.

    Write with freedom!

    As Word Press usually doesn’t let me comment using my blog link I use my facebook account. So if perchance you wish to pay me a return visit, here is my link:

    http://laussieswritingblog.blogspot.com

    I would love for you to drop in and say hi.

    Denise

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    • I had a mild heart attack last night. I was talking with my author-friend, Lani Woodland, and she informs me that she just saw a book about the very same thing my friend and I are writing about! I read the blurb but realized, mine isn’t as ‘fantastical’ as this one, but I am still disappointed that I can’t write fast enough, edit fast enough and snap my fingers to have an agent pick this story up and publish it. I have a feeling if it gets out there, people are going to think we copied. I am superstitious and don’t want to say what it is until my first draft is done. But, I share the same paranoia as many of you! (Thanks for letting me vent!)

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      • Doesn’t that just make you crazy? But maybe, if there’s a good space of time between that book and when yours comes out, no one will make any connection between them. As everyone is telling me, some similarities with something already out there is inevitable.

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  19. Eh, it’s normal. All stories are retold stories. If you’re worried that something might have been done before, the work is to make it extra, specially YOU. Best of luck! 🙂

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