DR: Is there anything new under the sun?
An aspiring novelist posed these questions after discovering I'd already written a book with a premise she thought was original to her work in progress: Are there any original ideas anymore? Has anything not already been written? Do you ever get a great idea for a book, think, how original! Surely nobody will have thought of that! Then, just to confirm--do a search on amazon.com and find at least five books with the very same "original" idea you had?
Age-old questions, and ones I think every writer has faced at one time or another. As far back as Ecclesiastes, we've been told:
"What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,
"Look! This is something new"?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time."
When the first review for my second novel, In the Still of Night (a story about a woman who becomes pregnant as a result of rape) appeared in Library Journal, it followed a review of Francine Rivers' wonderful book, The Atonement Child, a story about...what else?...a woman who becomes pregnant as a result of rape. I could not believe it! How could this be? (I was just grateful my book released a month before hers, so no one would think I'd stolen her idea!) I know now that truly, every story has been done before. But NO ONE--not even Francine Rivers--could tell my story the way I told it. Did my book sell as many copies as hers? Not even a fraction. Ten years later, does anyone remember my book? Probably not. Is my book still in print? No, it's not. But you know what? God used that book to touch a few lives--including the very real life of a young woman who gave birth to a baby after having her virginity stolen by a rapist. Maybe I wrote that book for that one woman. It doesn't matter. I wrote the story God gave me and that's all I was called to do.
A couple of years ago, author Susan Meissner wrote Why the Sky is Blue--her very first novel--a story about...you guessed it, a woman who becomes pregnant as a result of rape. I have no doubt God is using that novel to touch a new generation of readers, just as he used The Atonement Child and In the Still of Night a decade ago.
If God has given you a story to tell, tell it as only you can tell it. It may have similarities to books you've read before; the short synopsis may be nearly identical. But because God created you with a distinctive voice, unique life circumstances and a way of telling the story that will resonate with certain readers, your story will be as individual as a snowflake, as different from mine as you and I are from each other.
A word of advice if you're writing a story with a similar plot or theme to one that's already out there: change every aspect you can possibly change. Try:
*switching the roles of the hero and heroine
*placing your characters in a different era
*setting the story in a different locale
*writing from a different point of view--first person instead of third, etc.
*giving your characters totally different occupations, if possible
*changing the characters' backstory
*making the secondary characters unique and memorable
I have a book releasing next year that was inspired by a movie. When it comes out, I suspect people will know just which movie, but they will not be able to accuse me of "stealing" anything beyond the basic premise from the film because the idea for the film came from the same place I got my idea--a story that happened in real life. It's the inspiration for many books and movies.
So don't be discouraged if your idea shows up in a book with someone else's name on the cover. Write your story anyway. After all, there really is nothing new under the sun.
Deborah Raney is the author of A Vow to Cherish (Steeple Hill). Coming in February: Remember to Forget for Howard Books/Simon & Schuster. http://www.deborahraney.com/
P.S. If you're looking for an entertaining read and a demonstration of the nothing-new-everything-unique concept above, order a copy of What The Wind Picked Up . It's a collection of 21 short stories that share five common elements, including identical first and last lines. You might be amazed at how many ways authors can spin a tale.