Friday, May 16, 2014

Exactly the same, but different

photo credit: fiatlux's Flickr photostream
By Julie

Have you ever begun to write something, absolutely convinced you have a totally unique premise nobody else has managed to put out there?  It's the story you're sure will be the one that plunges you to fame. But then, you go into a tailspin when you see an announcement on Publisher's Lunch or simply hear it in the course of conversation ... ACK! Someone else is writing something exactly like your brilliant idea.

Yeah, me too.

But there's a saying that goes around the writer-sphere, reserved for just such an occasion:

"There are no new stories, only new ways of telling them."

It's good for us to remember this. Yes, it's smart to try to come up with a unique story hook, but sometimes we just have to go with our gut. If we have a story to tell, and it sounds a bit like someone else's, maybe that's because it's a universal story that appeals to the ...

The HUMAN in us. 

Even well-published authors get "scooped" on story ideas. And though we get our noses out of joint and sometimes even let that little evil voice inside tell us our idea was "stolen" because we maybe talked about it too much or let it out of the bag too soon, I'm going to guess that very rarely ever happens. It turns out we are just a lot alike as people, despite all our differences, and we are interested in many of the same things.

I dare you to keep writing that story even if it doesn't feel quite as unique as you thought it did at first. I dare you, however, to be sure that you are telling it like nobody else can. Write the heck out of it.

As Donald Maass inscribed in his latest book, Writing 21st Century Fiction, when I attended a workshop at the DFW Writers' Conference recently:

"Many journeys, but only one is yours. Write it."

(And as for that quote near the top, does anyone know who said this first? No? I didn't think so. I rest my point.)

Have you read two stories by different authors that have similar premises? Tell us about them here, and tell us how you reacted. Did they touch you on different levels? Were you glad you'd read both? Were you glad both authors wrote them? (Be kind.)

Alternately, look at the photo at the top of this post and tell us how that mirror image could tell two completely different stories!


  1. That happened to me just last week. My story is still mine to tell. I'm thinking of all the WWII dramas- none remotely the same- in voice.

    1. Yes, Joan, you have to keep forging ahead. And having seen bits, I say you don't need to worry! Just keep on keeping on!

  2. Eww wee did this resonate. I've been there. Twice. A very wise author, Jenny Wingfield, said to me (basically): "Don't worry. It just means the universe is ready for this kind of story." I mean, it happens all the time. I liken it to the grocery check-out line. We all start our stories at different times but somehow they all hit the market at once, or at least come into the light at once (thinking of all the Zelda books, a lot of books about the Shirtwaist fire, etc.)

    But you're right. Only we can tell our own stories. And they will be different every time. And if we're committed to the story, it will shine.

    1. Melissa, yes! And that Jenny Wingfield is a smart lady! :) Thank you for stopping by the blog!

    2. Ha. I realized I didn't include the whole of the analogy about the grocery store... Doesn't it seem like we get there at different times, but ALL end up at the checkout at THE same time? Same thing with books and writers, I think. Clear ... as mud, right?


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