Perhaps you’ve been brainstorming all week, or maybe all month, on a story idea. You’ve worked out all the details, and you have all your characters ready to go, and the plot twist at the end makes you happier than a midget in a platform shoe store.
But, then you happen to pick up a book of short stories and begin reading. Then, it happens. You read a story that could have been a carbon copy of your story idea. DAMMIT!
So, what do you do? I’ll tell you. Write it anyway.
If you are an old hand at writing, it is not a surprise to you that your story may already have been done before, but for new writers it can be devastating. But, here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter. Why? Because, there really is no such thing as an original story. Even the most ground-breaking novels and short stories out there are not completely original. They all have begged, borrowed, and stolen ideas from other people.
This is how human creativity works. This is also the answer for the question, “where do you get your ideas from?” Here’s the secret. Everywhere. Writers pick up ideas from absolutely everything they see, read, hear, feel, think, and eat. Rarely will you see a writer who can say they got their entire story idea, complete and whole, from a singular source, unless, that is, they have plagiarized it.
Because our minds automatically absorb everything around us, our subconscious chews it all up and spits it back out at you when you try to come up with a writing idea. Vampires, for example, have been so overdone they are just those crispy black things at the bottom of your oven when you don’t clean it regularly. And yet, every year (hell, every week) we see a new vampire book, movie, or television show. Most of them are just awful, but there are a rare few that feel “unique.” Why?
It is all about perspective and presentation. There is no such thing as a unique idea, but there is such a thing as a unique perspective. This is because we are all unique individuals, due to our experiences, memories, and thoughts. True, they may be similar to others’, but because of the way the human mind works, they will never be exactly the same, much like a fingerprint.
So, when you write YOUR vampire novel, so long as you haven’t just regurgitated someone else’s work, it will be original in the way you have presented the story. This does not mean you can just write any old damned vampire story. You still have to do the hard work of reading as many vampire themed stories as you can, and doing as much writing as you can in order to develop your individual writer’s voice.
Another way to try to ensure your story is unique is to blend themes, genres, and modes. This will give your piece a bit of an edge and a fresh perspective. Many of today’s best selling novels and short story collections follow this model.
Don’t worry if your story idea has been done before, because no matter how close the ideas are, that story has never been done by YOU. Write your story, collect your million dollar paycheck, buy a sports team, and then write another one.
Until next time, write on.