Recently, I saw an author freak a little about a book she’d been plotting when she realized it was similar to a book she’d read. I felt for her, because, well because I would have freaked a little too. Okay, probably a lot. In fact, I did. So much so that I thought my writing career had met its end.
I used to be a stickler for not reading books in the same genre I was writing. I guess I still am, but I’ve slacked on my self-imposed rule through my edits. I worried I would inadvertently write the author’s plot into my story. Fortunately, I discovered that ‘great minds do think a like’ even without reading each other’s stories. What I mean by that is, once I had to write a book review. The lot had fallen to me because I was the only Scottish historical reader in the group of reviewers. As I happily turned the pages I came across a scene that was too similar to one I had written. Can you imagine the angst? We’re talking nail-biting-toss-the-manuscript-in-the-trash-hang-up-the-writer’s-hat angst! Praise the Lord for great friends who know how to stop the drama. The thing is, as my friends so kindly pointed out, I’d never read this author’s work before and I know the author hadn’t read mine (as if, I mean she was published, I was an aspiring writer). Any way there was no way possible we could have copied each other.
Situations like this happen and obviously more than to just me if this other writer’s experience is any indication. It doesn’t mean the story needs to be thrown away or the scene cut even if it’s similar to a book you’ve read. Let’s face it, some of us can’t remember what we read yesterday let alone what we read five years ago. Now, that doesn’t mean you should go looking for ideas in your favorite author’s books. In fact, I highly suggest you don’t.
If you find yourself in this sort of situation, realize that your voice is much different than the other writer’s. And the way you execute the scene will be much different than the way the other author executes it. Let me tell you, the scene I had written and the one I had read for review were so similar it was like they were near word for word the same, except that the published author’s scene was much better. I nearly trashed mine, but at the time it seemed a part of my story, which to me meant trashing it. I didn’t trash the story, but I did think it through and made a few minor changes so that it wasn’t so much like the other.
I know this sort of thing can seem like a huge disappointment and then we begin to question our judgement and our morals (yes we writers are a weird lot). If you’re feeling down about the situation seek support from your critique partners or your writing community. Of course, everyone will have an opinion on what you should do, but ultimately the choice is up to you as the author.