It’s difficult to come up with a completely original idea. I have some faint recollection of Aristotle and Jasper Fforde saying much the same thing, in their different ways and in different millennia, which may prove the point.
Recently I’ve been doing a lot of reading and, time and again, I’ll be reading some other writer’s book and come across a twist or bit of business that I’ve recently put into one of my stories. It’s been happening so often that I’m starting to worry about mind melds and ESP.
Sometimes it’s something small, like someone crying by a fountain when I’ve written my heroine crying by a fountain. No big deal; I can just move her, although I’ve done some nice work describing the way her dress was getting wet which I’ll have to cut if I move her across the street. Oh, the heck with it, there are a lot of fountains in the world, I’ll just assume my girl is standing next to a different fountain and leave it at that. After all, she has to be standing next to something, and it might as well be a fountain as not. And in any case I need the sound of the water to cover the sound of her sobs and I like the metaphor of the falling water as her tears. Okay, the fountain stays.
At other times it’s a more significant duplication, like a book’s heroine who does the same work as my girl at the same kind of work place when I was hoping to give my reader an unusual experience. Once it was a character who is not only similar in appearance to one of mine but shares the idiosyncrasies of his speech patterns, too.
Do I have to give serious thought to changing these things or will a reader forgive the occasional commonplace if the rest of my story, its characters and the action is engaging?
The truth is, whether I change them or not, some of my pleasure in being their creator has dimmed because someone else thought of them first.
In a way it’s akin to wearing hand-me-down clothes or buying a chair at Goodwill. Shopping at Goodwill because I can’t afford Macy’s is different than shopping at Goodwill (and wearing hand-me-down clothes) because I love vintage things.
There are two ways to go here: I can think of the parallels as commonplace ideas that a reader will find boring because they have come across them before. Or I can choose to think of these serendipitous parallels as ideas so good they bear repeating.
Case by case?
Works for me.
“About the most originality that any writer can hope to achieve honestly is to steal with good judgement.” — Josh Billings