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Unintentional Unoriginality

Last week I wrote a review of Fuckness, a novel about a young man with horns on his head who occasionally goes on ultra-violent rampages.  Then this past weekend I found out about the upcoming movie Horns, which is based on a Joe Hill novel with a very similar premise.


My gut reaction would be to assume that the more popular, more mainstream author (Joe Hill) wrote his novel after the independent, probably self-published author (Andersen Prunty) and shamelessly plagiarized his premise(s).  My mind naturally gravitates toward the underdog story of The Little Guy being exploited by The Man.

But the truth is that Horns was published at least a full year before Fuckness.  If anything, Prunty ripped off Hill, not the other way around.  But I don't think it was a case of ripping off a story.  I think it might have just been poor timing.

It got me thinking about something that happens to me a lot: unintentional idea theft.  I'll see something, enjoy it, forget about it, and then later I am "inspired" to write this great new story about a guy who invents a device to explore people's dreams in order to encourage them to dissolve a corporation.

Sometimes it's not actually cryptomnesia.  Sometimes I actually did come up with an idea, but either the premise is so wide-reaching or it's based on such a common experience that it's pretty much impossible to be considered wholly original.  If I say that I'm writing a book about "genetically modified super soldiers," then that could apply to something like a third of all science-fiction and alternate-history novels.

The absolute worst scenario, however, is when I come up with an idea that actually is unique enough to stand on its own, but before I have a chance to finish writing my version of the story, somebody else releases a book or a movie with an identical plot.  It's not a matter of stealing ideas or covering common ground - it's a matter of simultaneous inspiration across the globe, and I was just a bit too slow.  (This is why I may one day turn into an old man who grumbles at his grandkids about how he "came up with Harry Potter, but nobody listened.")

In all cases, my temptation is to just give up on the story and work on something else.  It's hard to justify working on something that, in a best case scenario, will still be considered a rip-off.  I don't know if I can even keep track of the number of stories I've tossed aside this way.

The problem is that there gets to be a certain point in the creation of a story where you really can't stop and go back without losing your mind.  Sure, you can always stop what you're doing, but if you've already written the book and re-written it and picked out a cover, how can you justify it to yourself to give up at the last minute?  I imagine this must have been the case for Mr. Prunty.  I can only imagine he must have seen a copy of Horns at a bookstore or online about a week after he finished his first draft, and he just shouted, "Fuck!"  Maybe that's where his book got its name.

I'm struggling with the desire to give up on my books for any number of reasons, which makes the aforementioned phenomena all the more problematic.  At this point, I'm practically trying to shoe-horn my book into one of these situations.  Lately I see nothing but similarities between my book and nearly every movie, TV show, book, short story, or magazine article I see or read.

Just the other night I saw Girl Most Likely, a movie about a woman who stages a suicide attempt in order to win back her boyfriend and ends up going through a humbling experience with her family, and I said, "Jesus Christ, this is the exact same story as my book about a recent college graduate who takes up a series of exploitative odd jobs while trying to become a businesswoman."  It's not enough that the premises are different or that the personalities are different - the simple fact that the character's growth mirrors that of my protagonist means that "I Need a Job" is a shameless failure at creativity.

Sigh.  I should probably stop rambling about stuff like this on my own site.  I'm not doing a good enough job of selling myself.

Anyway, I have to assume this is all in my head.  I'm at a point now where I just need to put on blinders and stay focused on the end goal.  I imagine that if anybody out there wants to know why it seems like the same stories get written over and over, this is probably a better explanation most of the time than shameless, cynical plagiarism.