Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Yanno that phrase "Great minds think alike?"....welllll....

So I have two fulls out with agents right now and a handful of query letters. I've been really excited and hopeful about the process, but I recently saw that a new ARC had been released in my same genre. It has a pretty different plot line than mine, but I thought up a snappy name for a potion in mine that's pivotal to the plot, and it turns out they have the same exact name for their own potion that's pivotal to the plot. Now I'm worried that the agents reading my manuscript will see this and assume I somehow either copied it or that my story is too similar to this ARC for it to sell, even though the plots are different. I'm also pretty upset that I'll now have to go into my own story and find a new name for my potion when I was so happy with what I'd come up with. I know this seems like such a small thing, but can it have a big impact on the agents reading my work? Do I contact those two agents, or just leave them alone and hope they don't get turned off by it?


Because this is the first time this has happened to you, you think it's a big deal.

This happens a LOT. It's NOT a big deal.

Example: this past weekend I was at ThrillerFest. A lovely writer asked for help on a query. Her query included a phrase that I thought meant one thing; in fact the usage is now for something else, a site on the Dark Web. I'd never heard of it before and I was positive agents would confuse this new usage with the historical usage. With that in mind, I advised her to change her phrase.

Within a day, two OTHER writers, in two separate conversations, referenced the new usage as a plot point.

I'd have laughed if I wasn't quite so mortified about my confident insistence that people would not recognize the new usage.

Agents will not think you copied this other writer. For starters, the book isn't published.

And the reason I know you didn't steal this idea is cause you're worried about people thinking you did. The blatant plagiarists never think anyone will notice. Meticulous writers are sure everyone will...and assume the worst.

You didn't steal this idea, or this nomenclature. People come up with similar ideas and phrases more often than you'd think.

Bottom line: you're fine.

34 comments:

Timothy Lowe said...

Gotta love the posts that conclude with, "bottom line: you're fine."

I'd get that made into a rubber stamp if I wasn't so worried about plagiarism.

Good luck on the fulls, OP!

Colin Smith said...

I think Opie's concern resonates with every creative, whether a novelist, or songwriter, or movie producer, or artist--that their work will be perceived as a rip-off of someone else's. After all, to the creative mind, one of the worst insults is to have one's work described as unoriginal. Of course, we are all derivative to the extent that our work is an amalgam of our influences, mushed together to make something unlike anything else. But to insinuate that a writer copied from someone else is a heavy charge.

Many of us feel your anxiety, Opie. Janet's response is comforting. Thanks for that. :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. And my, do I get irked when I dive into a new fantasy and see similar phrase or character name or theme. It used to shatter my confidence that I had no hope of being original.

Do your thing. It is not nomenclature that makes a writer stand out. Like always, it's the writing. Hang in there, OP.

So yesterday, my laptop died spectacularly with years of my writing caught inside of it. Let me just say thank heavens for the Cloud. I went out and bought myself a MAC- I am done with PCs- and an hour later all my stuff was recovered and converted, working swimmingly on my new Mac Air. But boy am I broke! Anyhow, just a warning to my fellows- back your stuff up off site. You never know when your machine will rebel and quit on you.

Oh and for those wondering, Gary Corby's Death on Delos is intoxicating. Not that I was distracted from my writing or anything. I had to do something while restoring all my work to my new notebook.

RachelErin said...

It's funny how this happens.

Back when I designed knitwear, there was one season where two different magazines, one print and one digital, published almost identical armwarmers within six weeks of each other. Same stitch pattern, similar edging, yarn, details, everything. Even though it appeared to some that one designer had copied the other, due to the relevant deadlines in each mag, the samples of the pattern that appeared second were submitted nine months earlier (due to the glacial pace of print)- the two designers happened to combine similar elements, and the two editors happened to like the same thing (which is the more surprising fact).

With stories, as with knitting, there are actually a limited number of elements to change, and if everyone is looking for the thing that was NOT done last season, some of the them are bound to land on the same new thing. I think this applies to word play, plot twists, settings, character names.

I leave it to the comment column to invent a term for this, the writer's version of 'convergent evolution.' (where similar physical features evolve independently in unrelated species). Convergent ????

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Second book i ever wrote, someone told me i could never get it published because it had already been done. Asimov beat me to it with Foundation. I was so disappointed.

Nowadays, If someone told me the same thing, I'd go, "Cool! Comp title."

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Go for it OP.
Good luck, it sounds like you are on the right (toot-toot) track.

Claire Bobrow said...

This happened to me with the name of a main character. It was also the title of my manuscript. After laboring over the ms for weeks, I did a quick search on Amazon and discovered not one, but multiple, published picture books with the same title and type of mc. I gnashed my teeth, rent my garments, and learned a lesson. Good to know these coincidences aren't a big deal, but now I research first!

Joseph Snoe said...

The similarity thing can be jarring.

After I finished my first draft I read a book called “The Professor” (excellent legal thriller). The professor’s backstory closely resembled my main character (except the professor was 30 years older and his pet was a dog and not a cat). There must be certain ideas and concepts permeating the air that out inner mind latches on to.

Every time I read a blurb about a novel set in Brazil or the Amazon or that involves Mexican drug cartels, I freak out a little.

E.M. Goldsmith, For the past few weeks, my monitor will lose everything, turn black, and put up blotchy colors. If I turn the computer back on, it’ll be back to normal until the next time. Dell Concierge told me it’s either a bad cable between the computer and the monitor, or my monitor is about to fail, or my computer is about to fail. As you can guess I’m backing up my WIP after every chapter just in case.

Colin Smith said...

Do y'all internet search character names? Especially for main characters, I'll do a quick Google to see if those names belong to any prominent or famous people. If they do, I will consider changing the character name to avoid confusion, or any thought that I deliberately stole the name to make a point, or parody the real person.

wanderlustywriter.com said...

I worry about this all the time! My very first novel I wrote I changed the name of my protagonist -- it was Isabella -- because I was afraid people would think I was copying Twilight. Because my book was going to have the same kind of success. Hahahahahaha. Even now, when I *think* I know better, I read books that have similar twists or characters or plot points and worry people will think I copied from that book, and wonder if having early drafts of the Word docs of my own manuscript dated from years ago will be enough proof that I didn't copy. Good to know it's not something I should be fretting about :)

Joseph Snoe said...

Claire

One character in my WIP had been kidnapped years earlier and family still still didn't know if she was dead or alive. I wanted an all American girl-next-door name for her. I experimented for two days before settling on one.

For some reason I Googled the name. Turned out a young girl with the same name had been kidnapped in Florida a few years prior. I was horrified. My character now has a new girl-next-door name (Jennifer Honorfeld)

BJ Muntain said...

Conspiracy theorists put things like that together to come up with outlandish ideas. "The Mayans had the wheel. So did the Old World. It's aliens!" No, it's simultaneous invention.

I thought of one basis of my SF universe probably about the same time that the comic creators of Men in Black did. By the time the first issue of MIB came out, I'd written the novel. I was FURIOUS at MIB for the longest time, until I realized I used that idea differently.

OP: Your plot is different. It's not the same book. A word or phrase or name cannot be copyrighted in North America. You are safe.

Megan V said...

OP I've found myself at the revising board more than once because of such similarities. It's a common worry, but as Janet says, don't worry. You'll be fine.

And anyways, you can change it for future versions if you feel you must.

Colin I periodically google my character's names. There have been several instances where names change. Most recently someone on twitter-verse tweeted about their character...with the exact same name...and I may have stolen the QOTKU's Hello Kitty flamethrower for use on my WIP.

Claire Bobrow said...

Joseph: oh my goodness! Glad you caught that. I don't have quite the same concerns. My mc is a unicorn :-)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I have a good friend, one of the best men I have ever met, and whenever I need to kill a NPC (non-player character) I give the poor sod his name. His full name. He is aware of it and now insists he die in everything I write. I have killed him in 12 books so far in various and glorious ways. In my WIP he spawns offspring so I can go right on killing him. It's useful.

BJ Muntain said...

In respect to names (of fictional people, technology, planets)... I make a lot of them up off the top of my head. It really bothers me when people assume I copied another name.

For instance, I call a space port Endoryn. "I like your homage to Endora on Bewitched," said someone. Ummm, no. Endoryn just sounded right. "It's from Star Wars, then?" No. Not the Bible, either.

There are a limited number of sounds that humans are able to make. It's how they put those sounds together that make different words. Even unrelated ones words can have similar sounds.

nightsmusic said...

I've gotten beyond worrying about it. The first story I wrote had names and places that were in several different published stories. I agonized for weeks over it. By the third story when I'd spent hours and hours Googling names and places, I realized that just like there are only so many plots, there are only so many names and places as well. If it's that big a deal, it will get changed during the editing process provided it doesn't screw your story up completely and then, not always.

Go for it and don't worry about it. It's your story. It's your characters. Your plot, your everything. And just remember, even the Klingon language has its roots in indigenous languages that have been around for centuries. Nothing new...

RosannaM said...

OP, I can only imagine the anxiety this situation has caused you. But Janet said you're fine, and I would rather have a pronouncement like that from her than any medical doctor out there.

Joseph,Thank goodness you checked! I do Google my names, but I don't look beyond page one. Maybe that's not far enough?

Donnaeve said...

OT: Yesterday! I just read yesterday's (!) post and I'm panting b/c I did something right! In the Shark's eyes! I stuck my head out the door just to make sure the sun was coming up, and I wasn't in frozen over hell. Now I'm off to preen for a sec.

*******

Back. Wow. That made my day, and if I'd read it yesterday, I'd still be basking in the warmth. Thank you all for your kind comments!

Today's topic - boy did I ever do this. I'd finished writing DIXIE DUPREE, and around the time was in the process of reading SAVING CEECEE HONEYCUTT. What unnerved me were the similar story lines. I had an eleven year old from the south with a northern mother, and in that story it was the opposite - but still - that mix of south/north. Then there was a best friend - named - guess. Dixie. Yikes! And there was one more thing similar that I can't recall. But I was definitely worried it would be perceived like OP says. Plagiarized! Copy Cat! Etc. My agent said, "worry not." (I still wonder if he really meant worry knot)

Anywho. OT again. Speaking of finished writing...I just put THE END on my third book. 126K - can I get a good grief. I don't have much time to let it "set," before I've got to chop, meaning edit, out at least 26K words. Considering my writerly tics, about 10K could be deleted quick.

John Davis Frain said...

This is good news. Time to start querying my boy wizard story about a kid named Harry with round glasses.

Pigwarts, anyone?

Claire Bobrow said...

John Davis Frain: thank you for today's belly laugh!

Colin Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Colin Smith said...

Curse you, Frain! I was in the middle of writing a story about a boy lizard called Larry, who got a letter inviting him to the lizard school, Bogwortz. Now the world will never know what happens when he encounters the evil Voledemort... *sigh*

Beth Carpenter said...

OP, thanks for asking the questions. It's something that comes up for most of us, and its comforting to know we'll be fine.

Donna, congratulations on reaching the end, and good luck with that editing cleaver.

John Davis Frain said...

Colin, yours sounds dramatically different. And better, come to think of it. I think I'll query yours instead. If you wait long enough after an agent makes a full request, surely they won't remember what they requested, right?

This is yet another example where I should restrain myself from hitting the Publish button below.

But no...

Craig F said...

I'll blame Charlotte's Web. The introduction of subliminal messaging there has created big problems. Now you get these new commercials from folk that want to scare you into buying their products. You might think that you weren't listening but human brains pick up all kinds of weird shit.

Then again, it might be that every story has already been told. The only thing writers have going for them is how the story gets told, but that brings us back to subliminal messaging.

Colin Smith said...

John: Sounds like a great plan. They say goldfish have, like, a two second memory... and sharks are just big bluey-grey goldfish with sharp teeth, so I'm sure they forget what they requested. You should be fine! :D

John Davis Frain said...

Mr. Smith, I think you're leading me astray.

This reminds me of the time my brother said "Aw, Burly Man looks like a big friendly teddy bear. You go over there and ask for directions, and I'll stay over here and get 9-1 cued up on my phone."

Janet Reid said...

This would be a lot funnier if there were days I didn't wake up and wonder who I was.

Colin Smith said...

Don't worry, Janet QOTKU Shark-Goldfish, Spoctoper, Cuddly-Bear, Literary Agent-Therapist-Granter-of-Dreams... we know who you are. I think. Sort of. :D

LynnRodz said...

We may think we come up with these ideas, but the universe puts it out there for anyone to grab. Sometimes there's more than one taker.

Michael Seese said...

Just remember... I have PROOF I invented the phrase "Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic." That is, if my friends' drunken memories are proof.

Lennon Faris said...

Oh I've definitely had these worries. What a terrible feeling when you see your own brainchild already out there! I do Google main character names and potential titles and even main ideas now.

John (mss) Frain and Colin, you two are seriously cracking me up.

Janet, everyone forgets little things like that sometimes. But not many get to come to the realization, "Aha, I am the QUEEN!"

Lennon Faris said...

And EM, that is morbid and hilarious. I've included people in my mss before... never to murder them with style! I guess you have to choose someone with a good sense of humor :)