Avoiding rip-offs

Question: This is driving me mad. I need general advice for avoiding rip-off characters in any form of writing, but i'll use a specific character of mine just as an example. I LOVE the Phantom of the Opera. I just love the whole dynamic of it. The problem: Gaston Leroux took all the good character bits for himself and left none for future authors! Now any character that wears a mask and plays music is compared to the Phantom. A disfigured genius with a badass mask, supernatural suaveness and a tragic background? I love it. My problem is I can't think of a way to make my character stand out to the point where people won't go "Oh, well, Leroux did that first, didn't he?" I mean, I can make my character with a different history and character role and everything, but just trying to make a similar TYPE of character without making the CHARACTER himself similar to its influence is driving me insane. Help? PLEASE? Thank you!

Answer: The key is to change enough of the external traits that the character is not immediately recognizable. You can likely keep many of the internal traits, including the angst.

For instance, the Phantom inhabits an opera and has a passion and talent for music. So can you give your character a passion and talent for something else, and a corresponding setting?

The Phantom dresses the way someone does to go to the opera, so can your character dress appropriately for his setting and subject matter?

The Phantom is shunned by the world because of the disease that disfigured his face. Can you think of a different reason the world may have unfairly rejected your character? Or, if you must, how about a different reason for wearing a mask or hiding his identity?

Many characters in different stories have great similarities, but if the externals - their appearance, setting, etc. - are different, few readers ever notice. I've written elsewhere about the similarities between Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker. You could also argue that Batman has much in common with the Phantom, but no one ever thinks of those two as rip-offs of each other.

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