By Anne Mateer
Have you ever read a book with the sinking feeling that the story seems so very, very familiar? In fact, it seems almost an exact replica of the story you are writing or have written. A story this author knows nothing about, just as you knew nothing about theirs. The farther you read in the already-published book, the more deflated you become. What hope is there for your story now?
Not only have I had this feeling in the past, but I am in the midst of it right now! As I am currently reworking the first novel I ever finished (almost 15 years ago!), a story no one but a few close friends know, I am also reading the latest novel by one of my most favorite authors. And there it is. A very similar plot line. Very similar time period. Even a few of the same character names! It would be extremely easy to be discouraged and scrap my own rewrite now.
And yet . . .
Ecclesiastes 1:9 tells us: That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.
Nothing. Not plots. Not themes. Not time periods. Not characters. Nothing. And yet that truth does not give us a pass to quit doing that which God has given us to do. Apparently He isn’t bored with the repetitive nature of our lives, so why should we let “sameness” deter us? For the real truth is that no two stories are ever exactly alike. Our words, our characters, our plots are as unmatching as two snowflakes.
As I pushed past my own disappointment, I began to notice the uniqueness of my story again. My time period is slightly different from the book I’m reading, which lends itself to different circumstances for the characters. It is set in slightly different geographical locations, which means differing cultures and ways of life from this novel. The themes, while quite aligned, are universal-truths that need to be spoken through many different means. I can control the names of my characters which match up with hers, but on the other hand, will readers really remember and connect? Probably not. My book will likely be published a year or more after hers. And my readership will likely be slightly different, too.
And then I remember years ago, as I was beginning to attend writing conferences, hearing about the book What the Wind Picked Up. A group of published authors got together and created a book of short stories that all contained five of the “same” elements. And yet every author’s story turned out differently. Every. Single. One.
So instead of discouragement as you read a story similar to your own, choose joy as in another author’s way of telling the story, and let it fuel a greater excitement to tell the one unique to you.
Anne Mateer is the author of four historical novels as well as a contemporary Christmas short story in 2014’s A Cup of Christmas Cheer II. Anne and her husband, Jeff, live in Dallas. Visit www.annemateer.com for more information about Anne’s books or to connect with her on social media.
Anne, when I started to read your story, I thought of that book–What The Wind Picked Up–and smiled. You and I have heard it all before. Don’t be afraid someone will steal your story. Everyone’s view, every author’s voice is different. The story is just a shell, and we add the details. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks, Richard! We all know it but we all tend to panic when we first see it, right? 🙂
This very thing happened to me a couple years ago. I kid you not, it was the same time period, the same “boy-next-door” theme. Both of the heroes had fathers in congress, and both had similar heroine goals. We also had a secondary character with the exact same first and last name (with similar looks and personalities)! It was mind-boggling. Thankfully, I read the other story while I only had half of mine finished, so I was able to go back and make enough changes to set them apart. They were different geographical locations, so that helped. Eventually, I made enough changes, and then used the other book as a comparable in my proposal. 🙂 I learned many things while writing that story, and in the end, it was a good exercise in learning how to roll with the flow.
Great post, great reminder, Anne! When my second novel, In the Still of Night, came out in March 1997, it was reviewed in an industry magazine alongside Francine Rivers’s April 1997 novel, The Atonement Child. Both are stories of a woman who becomes pregnant as a result of rape, and the decisions she must make as a result. I was dismayed, and yet, as you said, we each brought our own unique voice and “twists” to our stories and each had our own readership (hers MUCH larger than mine, of course!) I’m glad it happened early in my career so I would realize just what you said: there is nothing new under the sun! But that doesn’t mean we aren’t each unique with our own unique stories to tell!
An editor told me at a conference (I was in a panic)that having a similar book as someone else may help the sales of both books. Readers are readers and when they find something they like, they will want another.
That book you mentioned intrigues me. Amazon.com here I come.
Anne, this is the first time I have seen any author address this topic, yet it is not that uncommon. The situation you described has happened to me, too. I think it is one of the ways the enemy tries to get us off track from the destiny to which God has called us.
A mentor once told me that “ideas are in the air,” so it is no wonder that several people pick up the same idea. But, as you so rightly note, the idea may be the same but its execution will always be unique.
Thank you so very much for your excellent post.