What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun. Even the thing of which we say, “See, this is new!” has already existed in the ages that preceded us.
I had one of those “Damn! That’s MY idea!” moments tonight.
Six years ago, I came up with the initial spark of my Seven Deadly Sins idea. I started the book in August of 2003, but shortly thereafter, THE PREY (which was then titled THE COPYCAT KILLER) finaled in an RWA chapter contest. I hadn’t finished the book, so thinking I had a great shot at getting an editor to read me, I put aside the book I was then calling THE COVEN and finished THE PREY.
While the editor ranked me second in the contest, she said that the chapters she’d read (50 pages) were great, but not something she’d acquire. Emboldened, and sensing that this book was IT, I terminated the relationship with my then-agent, cleaned up the manuscript, and queried 12 top agents. I sold THE PREY, and in hindsight I’m glad I didn’t focus on the Seven Deadly Sins series , because I didn’t have the skill to pull it off the way I wanted.
But the book haunted me.
I sold the series in 2008, and the first book–now called ORIGINAL SIN–will be on sale 1.26.10. I finished the revisions Friday night and sent them off to my editor. The book goes into production on Monday. I am alternately excited about this book and scared to death: it’s a pure supernatural thriller and unlike anything I’ve written. It’s exactly the way I wanted to write it . . . and I am forever indebted to my editor for helping pull the meat of the story from the mess of my first draft, showing me the potential, and giving me the palette back to paint the story my own way.
But because I’ve been thinking about this story a long time–and even had 150 pages written (none of which made it to the final draft)–I began to get frustrated when I saw themes and ideas I had show up in other books and media.
Now, I’m not the first person on the planet to come up with the idea to write a series based on the seven deadly sins. Lawrence Sanders had a whole series on the theme; Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman starred in the fabulous and terrifying movie SEVEN; and stories about lust, greed, pride and the rest have been created from the dawn of storytelling.
I did think that my story was a different take on an old theme. The Seven Deadly Sins as demons on earth. I have always loved the supernatural, classic supernatural stories. New paranormal trends don’t interest me. I can’t wrap my head around the idea of a vampire who is good. TWILIGHT is a huge hit–yeah Stephanie Meyer–but really, where are the animal rights people when you need them? Seriously, if I ever wrote a vampire book, vampires would be portrayed as the evil bloodsuckers they are. Demons? They’re not heroes. They want your soul, as painfully as possible. So I was kind of out-of-step with what was selling. But honestly, my idea was not blazing any new paths–but rediscovering favorite roads
While the story was cooking in my head, a television show started called SUPERNATURAL. I love it.
But dammit, some of their ideas are MY ideas.
No, I don’t think Eric Kripke can read my mind, but for awhile I was worried. For example, long after I wrote my initial proposal, and three years after I wrote my first 150 pages, Season 3 began with the episode “The Magnificent Seven.” Yep, the Seven Deadly Sins as demons.
See. Me. Bang. Head. I almost abandoned my idea. Then I realized that it was one episode and they didn’t explore a fraction of the subject matter. It wasn’t a continuing theme.
But then last night, when we watched the recorded Season 5 premiere, we learn that the only way for an angel to enter your body (a “vessel”) is if you invite it.
See. Me. Bang. Head. Again.
There are no angels in my book–no easy solutions (though in SUPERNATURAL they are handling the demons and angels thing brilliantly, IMO.) If there’s around, it’s just to give signs, but not consciously written. It’s up to free will human beings to discern what the signs mean, and to stop the Seven from causing (more) problems on earth.
But I do have a “rule” in my world that to be a vessel (and yes, I used “vessel” as well!) you have to willingly agree. (The “vessels” are not for possession by angels–or demons–but essentially human sacrifices through which the demons are brought forth or contained.
I think I swore at the televisions. My book is DONE.
I have over 40 books about witchcraft, the occult, exorcisms, prayer, spiritual warfare, angels, and major religions. So much of what is in SUPERNATURAL comes from history or mythology–which is also where I’m basing my world “rules.” So it’s natural that we’re going to come up with similar ideas.
I’ve heard unpublished authors say that they dumped an idea because another popular author wrote a similar idea in THEIR book. Well, hello people. There’s nothing new under the sun. It’s all been done before. Get over it. Write the book.
I guarantee it’ll be different from anyone.
I’d bet if I gave the same story idea to the 13 other Murderati members, that they’d all write a completely different book. And each one would be damn good and stand on its own.
I’ve heard unpublished authors give up on ideas because television or the movies recently had something similar. Hello! Capitalize on the interest. BTW, it’ll take a couple years before your book hits the shelves and by that time the subject matter could be hot.
Recently, an unpublished writer asked on a writing loop if she should copyright her unpublished book before she submitted it to agents, because they might steal her idea and give it to one of their authors to write. Um, why would they do that? Agents are not looking to take ideas from unpublished authors. They have plenty of good submissions to sort through. They WANT to sell books, and they WANT more than one client. Amy Berkower doesn’t just represent Nora Roberts–she has other clients. And really, like I need someone else’s idea? Believe me, I have plenty of my own. Not all of them good, not all of them sellable, but plenty.
It’s not just this current series that had me knotted up. A movie called UNTOUCHABLE about a guy who kills people on-line that came out three months before my book FEAR NO EVIL that had a girl kidnapped and the bad guy was charging people to watch–and they could pay and vote on how she dies. My book was already in production before the movie was released. Episodes of both SUPERNATURAL and CRIMINAL MINDS had people hunting other people for sport. So did my book THE HUNT–which came out long before either show–it again highlighted that there are many common themes, even similar ideas. And what about that movie (the name escapes me) about the rape victim who turns around and kills the men who raped her? She hunt them down. Stories connect us because they come from our common foundation as human beings and that MOST of us have the same basic fears, the same basic desires, the same basic internal struggles as everyone else. So that many of us have stories that stem from the same core idea is not surprising; that we all write completely different stories is a testament to our individuality.
So have you ever had an idea and it seemed that you saw it everyplace after that? Have you noticed that there seem to be cycles of a bunch of similar movies/books/themes all coming out together? Am I the only one who has noticed that sometimes, blogs all cover the same general subject matter?
Good morning Allison, I have noticed a similarity in theme in several books I have read, but each author dealt with the theme in a different way. At first when I started reading, depending on which author’s book I read first, my brain did an automatic check, and I got a little upset, actually, I got really pissed off, but once I kept going the individuality of the author came through. I was able to appreciate what they did with the theme they had. That is why I was able to discover some new authors to go crazy over. As you stated in your blog, if you gave one theme to the 13 other Murderati writers, you would get 13 very different stories. It is all a matter of perception, right? The seven deadly sins is a common theme, and I love the different ways it has been explored by numerous authors, poets, screenwriters, directors, etc. Thank you for bringing this topic up.
Peace and love,
Weirdly enough, yesterday’s entry announced "The Harrowing," which had been the original title for my book for a long time. My novel also personifies the Seven Deadly Sins, although in a much different way. Just goes to show there are some ideas that continue to be intriguing . I think readers find comfort in familiar themes, otherwise Arthur Conan Doyle would have written the last mystery book and Tolkien would have written the last fantasy books. Great post!
It’s called the collective unconscious!
I actually think it’s important that many artists/writers/filmmakers explore similar themes and stories so we get a variety of perspectives.
And yes, I have 4 screenplays on a shelf somewhere that far pre-dated 4 very successful movies and TV shows that came out years later and were uncannily similar. I wrote two of them while living in LA and the other two when I came back east. I didn’t have the contacts at the time to get those projects "out there" – but it was nice to know that in some way I was tapping into something good.
Untouchable is actually very similar to an Episode of Millennium called "The Mikado" in which a guy leaves kills a series of women when the counter reaches a specific number of hits. The difference between Untouchable and the Mikado is proof of what you say. Same basic concept executed in different ways.
Hi Paula! I would love it someday if the 14 Murderati members could do something like that, maybe 14 short stories. Now, having all of us agree on a theme might be problematic . . . but the idea that we’d take the same premise and write different stories isn’t even new. When I was on the Levy Bus Tour, three historical regency romance writers got together and came up with an idea for an anthology–they would all write stories set in the same lodge that take place within 24 hours. (I think there was something else.) One was a big name (Mary Balogh) and they recruited Stephanie Laurens (another big name for those of you who don’t know anything about romance) and the antho landed on the NYT list to fabulous reviews. Yeah them!
Vipul, I don’t want to tell you how many titles I’ve conceived of that were used after I wrote the book.
Billie, in the back of my mind I was thinking of Stephen’s story about the two great screenplays that were similar and being rushed through production to beat each other, but both fell apart. And in the back of my little mind, I remember that the prequel to the EXORCIST had two versions that were almost identical, and while there were problems with both, the opening in the better one made me realize that the hero in my series needed an impossible choice just like the priest in the beginning of that movie. (It was a brilliant, sad, horrifying scene. Sadly, probably the best scene from the movie. It could have been so good.)
There you go Chris! Thanks 🙂
BTW, I was tired last night and just edited my post. I’ve had a few late nights! But one thing I didn’t add in that I wanted to was my original story THE PREY is about a former FBI turned crime writer whose books are being used as blueprints for murder. The tv series CASTLE had the same basic idea as my book. And I’m sure it’s been done before me, and will be done after me.
It gets even ‘worse’ when you consider how long it takes for that first ‘break’. I remember writing my first manuscript and doing the head-beating thing as I’d read other books with similarities–not even themes, just stuff I thought up all by myself, and then would see on TV, or in another book. I hated the idea (still do) that someone would think I was copying them.
But I totally agree that if you give the same theme to a dozen authors, you’ll get a dozen different stories. I’ve taken numerous workshops on ‘voice’ where we all look at a picture or all get a simple scenario, and everyone comes up with something different.
Exactly, Terry. I mean, not everyone walks into a bank and thinks, "Hmm, how can I rob this place?"
I would love it someday if the 14 Murderati members could do something like that, maybe 14 short stories. Now, having all of us agree on a theme might be problematic . . . but the idea that we’d take the same premise and write different stories isn’t even new.
I had a great idea for a series a couple years ago. Then something very similar came out as a TV series called LEVERAGE. I’ve never met or spoken to series creator John Rogers, so I’m reasonably sure he didn’t swipe the idea from me. Collective unconscious indeed.
Many years ago when I was a junior at the University of Wisconsin, I took a comparative literature course. As we were studying Genesis, I had an epiphany: I understood a passage that had engaged commentators throughout the centuries. In a huge lecture hall, I raised my hand to share my knowledge. When I was finished, the very compassionate professor said, "Well, Sandy, as you know, the Bible has been studied for a long time. And, indeed, (_________) [He gave the commentator’s name.] suggested that theory." My interpretation was nothing new under the sun, which deflated me a bit until I realized that it was mine and I had come to it via my own journey.
As I continue to pursue my first novel, I, too, have had more than one moment of reading or watching when I have seen an idea of mine and been stopped cold and left saying, "Well, nix that one." And then I have remembered, nothing IS new under the sun except our own unique brand.
Thank you for writing about this today. It is timely and has stablized my wavering psyche.
Funny you should post this. I wrote my first novel (still titled Forget Me Not) in 2003. I bought The Prey when it came out but didn’t start reading it until a month or so later. After the first couple of pages I was like, Holyfreakincow, this is just like my book!. Of course after finishing The Prey I realized there were only a few similarities (author is stalked by a serial killer, has a bodyguard, hiding out at a beach house–though in Texas–and her books are left with the bodies.) Okay, that’s more than a few, but that’s where they stopped. My book turned into 50% romance 50% suspense. Anyway, when my second agent read FMN, she decided not to submit it because it was too similar to your book (I just think she was too timid–she was new to being an acquiring agent). That was five years ago, so hopefully it’ll get another chance out there. (it’s currently with Avon)
I recently read Robert’s Kill Her Again and noticed similarities to my paranormal Dark Obsession.
A few years ago I wrote a (very) basic/barebones outline for a romantic suspense novel called Caught in the Web, the premise being about a woman who’s stalked by a serial killer after she meets him in an online chatroom. (Okay, I don’t have that big a facination with seiral killers, the books just call for them) Then not too long ago I read a post by one of the ‘rati’s who said they’re working on or have a similar novel. *sigh*
I’ve long ago accepted that I’m not going to have an original-never been done-story but regardless, my novels aren’t going to be exactly like anyone elses and if there are similarities to another published novelist I’ll just consider myself in good company. After all, who better to channel then you guys? =)
When I was a D-Guy in the film business I saw this ALL the time. I’d see cycles of screenplays coming through. Sometimes I’d read 10 screenplays in a six-month period that were all on the same subject. That’s one of the reasons we wouldn’t accept a screenplay without a release. There seems to be a collective unconsciousness that everyone taps into when coming up with "new" story ideas.
Does it ever seem to you like the answer to 50% of all writing questions is "voice, honey"???
(the answer to the other half is "get your ass back in the chair sister")
I have had that experience for sure. A while ago I was writing a *lot* of short stories at a pretty fast clip and one day i noticed that not only did I seem to be recycling story lines (someone gets pissed off enough to kill someone else) I was actually *stealing ideas from myself*. This may be a case of middle-aged forgetfulness in the extreme, but I was halfway through a story when it started to seem, well, uncomfortably familiar. I dug around and realized I’d begun the same story a few years earlier. Duh!
Oh, wait, back to the subject. Old Idea + Original Voice = Spankin’ New Book
On Wednesday nights, I watch Criminal Minds and get in turn exhilarated and frustrated. I swear those guys are reading my books – I can’t begin to tell you how many plots they do that I’ve already published, written, or are working on. We joke that they have a fly on the wall behind my writing chair.
I also had a wildly original dream several years ago about a woman assassin who has a chip in her head that turns her on and off for work. I write a quick short story about it, published it, then shelved the project. Joss Whedon popped up last year with Dollhouse, eerily similar to my idea. I never watched it because I’m still going to write the book – Allison couldn’t be more right, everyone has a different treatment of the same idea.
That said, the fan mail that always stings are the ones that say I already saw your book idea on TV, maybe you could try something someone hasn’t already done. They have no idea that my work was conceived and written two to three years before the TV show started…
As for an antho of Murderati along a theme, I am so in…
In my pre-writing days, I used to say I had no new ideas and therefore could not start to write a book. My watercolorist friend pointed at one of her pictures hanging over my mantle and said, "Oh, and you think nobody’s ever painted a horse before?"
Yes, yes and yes, Allison.
I have come to similar conclusions to yours though. I know that my take is going to be very different even if it has many of the same "rules." That’s why I think it’s so critical to write what you want to write rather than following trends; you’ll bring your own voice, which is bound to be unique, rather than merely mimicking or fearing being mimicked.
I love it when I see something fresh, but it’s still usually a combination of old ideas, just uniquely combined. For example, there’s nothing really new about the buddy/cop trope, nor is there really anything much new about the idea of aliens hidden among us, but combine those and add a comedic touch, and you get MEN IN BLACK. FBI + aliens among us.
Take the same exact idea — FBI, aliens among us, but change the tone–the voice–to scary police procedural, and you get the new hit TV show FRINGE.
It’s not the idea. It’s the execution.
(I think the anthology idea would rock.)
I’m so glad to hear that I’m not alone with this frustration. But now that I’ve gotten to know many authors, this seems to be a recurring theme. I use to tear my hair out when I saw stories come out that were similar to ideas of mine. I had the idea for a thriller written from the perspective of a dog, then Dog Gone It came out. I decided, well, now it’s been done. But hold on. How many books are out there about vampires? There’s so many possibilities for each type of story that you shouldn’t dismiss it just because someone else has written a book with a similar theme. Sure, you won’t be the first, but it will be different, and if readers loved the original story, they may be eager for something else like it. The Davinci Code didn’t kill the market for religious thrillers; it stoked it because readers wanted the same experience they got with TDC.
Hollywood does similar stories all the time. Remember when Deep Impact and Armageddon came out the same summer? Same idea done very differently, and both movies made a lot of money. And look at all the new TV shows about nurses in the last few months. Like Allison said, ideas are a dime a dozen, and everything has been done already. It’s your voice and execution of the idea that matter to readers.
I loved the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Very exciting and well-written. But original? No. There was a Japanese novel written five years before called Battle Royale that had virtually the same plot: in a Dystopian future, teenagers are chosen to fight each other to the death. It was even made into a movie. But her execution of the story was so good that she distinguished it from the earlier book, and now it’s a massive hit. If she can succeed with such a seemingly derivative plot, then I wouldn’t worry about any similarities you might see between your story and another one.
"My interpretation was nothing new under the sun, which deflated me a bit until I realized that it was mine and I had come to it via my own journey."
Sandy, your professor is a jerk. This statement is right on–we all have to travel our own journeys. It’s one of the problems of parenthood–we want our kids to agree with us 100% of the time (well, with my 100% of the time and my husband when he agrees with me) but if they are to adopt our values and beliefs, they have to ultimately agree with them because of what they’ve seen and experienced in their life. They have to go on their own journeys. It’s damn hard as a parent to accept that, but essential. And sometimes, we change 🙂
Terri, I remember having coffee or lunch with you at a conference . . . don’t remember WHICH conference, LOL, but we had a conversation about your book being similar to THE PREY. Well, THE PREY isn’t new, either! But I couldn’t write like you or your story, and your agent was just an idiot (whoops, hope she’s not reading this.) I mean, look at all the vampire books out there! Most of them rely on the same mythology, twisted, to allow for the bloodsucking fiends to be heroic. And they want more :/
"My watercolorist friend pointed at one of her pictures hanging over my mantle and said, "Oh, and you think nobody’s ever painted a horse before?""
ROFLOL, you made me laugh Louise. I love this.
SOPHIE: "one day i noticed that not only did I seem to be recycling story lines (someone gets pissed off enough to kill someone else)"
Umm, Sophie, do I have to start worrying about you? This seems to be a theme you haven’t shaken . . .
Toni, I love FRINGE. Oh, wait, I got you addicted to it didn’t I? Bawahahaha . . . I am SO looking forward to the next season. I love that series. I put it in the X-Files meets CSI category, but your analysis is better. And great characters helps immensely. Olivia Dunham is one of the few female FBI agents in entertainment that I don’t want to strangle.
"That’s one of the reasons we wouldn’t accept a screenplay without a release."
Stephen, that’s one of the things that stumps me when writers complain about signing a release. My agency requires a release before they read something–and I get writers emailing me ALL the time wanted to know if I signed it when I sent Kim my book, why did they require it, yada yada. Um, it protects them and all their authors. And if they sign you, it’ll protect your ass too. Duh.
I get that idea attribution disputes spring up from all types of sources.
My Mum’s guiding hand was feeling a little bit heavy when she started being amused about something new I had happening in my life.
She would mutter, ‘ I said, that was a great idea 6 months ago…’
This was not quite the response I was after. As I remember hearing the idea and thinking um no.
This happened for quite a while, new thing after new thing until, I went away and thought about it and said to her, ‘ You know, I appreciate you planting the seed…I could see for you it was a great idea, but I didn’t want to make that idea happen in a way that was right for you. I needed 6 months find a way to make it my own.’
I think we’ve struck a balance now. She’s happy if I acknowledge that her ideas have merit, I’m happy if I do it my way.
I like the way that common ground can be found, and it only took a slight adjustment on both our parts to get a different result. I think there maybe a parallel with other creative pursuits.
Hi Allison, I think that the anthology idea would be great…I can just imagine the kinds of stories we would be ablet read…woth further thought…as a reader, I would be totally psyched…
Everything is a matter of individual perspective, which is what makes reading books with the same theme by different authors so much fun….
Peace and love,
I had that exact experience recently– my as-yet most widely-published story was about a contractor who builds the death traps in ancient temples (before they’re ancient, obv.). Years went by and I decided to revisit the idea and write a sequel, which was well underway when I was watching an episode of Robot Chicken on the cartoon network and they used the exact same idea in a sketch. The new story has just been accepted for publication, so we’ll see if I get accused of ripping off the TV show.
One of the first things I was told was that no author is the same. The premise might similiar, but the story wont. Since being told that I haven’t worried if my ideas are similiar to others. *shrug*
Great post and something I’ve been dealing with for a while. I keep coming up with ideas, only to find more out there that are really similiar (Just as Joann Ross about our two books both titled Shattered about wounded GIs). But never once have I sat back and gone, they stole my idea. I recently read a Stephen King post on his website that unless there is blatant copying, no two stories are going to be exactly alike (or something to that effect). While I completely understand that authors are sensitive to the subject having been accused of stealing ideas, at the heart of our copywrite laws is the rule that ideas are not copyrightable.
The head banging, I completely relate to. And I also agree that no two stories are exactly alike. I’ve found numerous instances where a book is out there and I’m like, wow, that’s my storyline almost to a t. But you know what? It’s not. And I’m not insecure enough to cry wolf just because the same basic premise leads to two different books.
There is nothing new under the sun. We should all strive to remember that!
It happens to many people in everyday life.It is funny that u feels same experience now.
Hi Allison Brennan…
Congrats on the new blog! I really want to appreciate your interesting blog. I hope you will updates this blog regularly. I am sure you really loved being in touch with the audience and speaking and spitting out around. You have done great work. keep it up!