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.