I accidentally came up with a story that very closely reflects that of another story.

by Chris
(Woods Cross, UT, USA)

Question: Ok, I've been thinking about this story for almost a year now, and I have finally distilled it into a (in my opinion) beautifully well-laid out work of fiction. I've followed your guides to create plot and characters, and now I am finally ready to animate it into a series on my youtube channel (production starts this summer!)


However, I was so excited about my story that I told it to my friend (who is an aspiring writer). After I told her, she said it was good, but the plot sounded a lot like the plot of a series she watched once. She even said the main character of that series very closely mirrored mine! I don't know if you've heard of or watched BBC's MERLIN, but that's what series she referenced. I watched a few episodes, and my friend is are right so far. My main character is very much like the main character in it. And most of my other characters have a likeness to another character in MERLIN. I even saw a scene in MERLIN that is just like one of my most iconic scenes!

So what should I do if the plot I have has already been taken? I really don't want to take a whole other year to drastically change the plot, and then if I did, I'd have to make different characters, which would be even harder!

But, do you think I should still keep the plot? Because, I'm assuming MERLIN isn't a very famous show, I certainly never heard of it, until my friend told me about it. And plus, it's just for a youtube channel! I doubt there'd be much crtics on there who would take MY series that seriously. But those are just my justifications for keeping my plot. What do you think?

Answer: The Merlin series is famous enough (my daughter watches it). But even if it wasn't, you don't want to expose yourself to accusations of plagarism, especially if you have any hope of making money from this venture.

So what do you do?

Consider that a story can be looked at as having both an internal aspect - the underlying dramatic structure of the story - and an external aspect, which is how the story is illustrated for the reader.

It's similar to how a character has an external appearance and personality as well as an internal set of emotional drives, desires, judgements, and thought patterns.

For instance, Star Wars (episodes IV to VI) has a very similar internal structure to Harry Potter. Both are about orphan boys, raised by powerless uncles, watched over by an older wizard-warrior who, when they come of age, trains them to avenge their father's death.

However, no one has accused J.K. Rowling of plagiarizing George Lucas because the externals of Harry Potter are vastly different. The setting, characters, and many of the plot events are different enough that the casual viewer doesn't notice the similarities.

I think what you might do is decide what aspect of your story you are most in love with. Is it the external illustration of your characters, plot, and story world, or is it the underlying dramatic structure?

If it's the structure, consider transposing the story into a world that's very unlike the world of Merlin. You could set it in a different country, a different time period, even a different planet. Make the design work strikingly different. Give the characters different external traits and backstories that fit this new world. Find different events to illustrate the same plot points. You'll find the in doing this process, you will end up making many other little changes, so that the final story should be quite original.

On the other hand, if you love the external story world you've imagined, consider creating a different story to take place within that world. I know that also sounds like a lot of work, but sometimes even changing one key element in a story and then adjusting everything else makes all the difference.

For instance, I have seen two American adaptations of the classic British film The Wicker Man. One was a straight remake, but set in the US rather than Scotland. The other made a key change in the plot that resulted in a happy rather than a tragic ending. The second film had a different title (which unfortunately escapes me at the moment) and was different enough in other ways that made it a different story.

I realize how aggravating (and possibly costly) it will be to return to the drawing board at this stage, but it is certainly the safest option.

Perhaps treat it as an opportunity to take the story to an even better level?

Comments for I accidentally came up with a story that very closely reflects that of another story.

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Jan 23, 2014
Thank you!
by: Chris

Thank you very much. I mostly wasn't sure whether I'd get in trouble for doing it, but that answer was exactly what I needed! I think I will change the settings, world, and character backstories to be different, because I love the story structure.
I saw what you meant when you used that Harry Potter/Star Wars analogy. I didn't even realize that they were that closely related until now! But also, I will probably do what you said where I'll take out a few little bits and replace them with different ideas. That way, I'll put more distance between myself and the plagiarism line.

Thank you for sharing your insight! I can already see where improvements can be made, to a story I thought otherwise perfect!

-Chris

Jan 27, 2014
Same problem
by: Marta

Hi,
I was having the same problem with my story that I was thinking about almost a 1,5 year of. My story was about a girl who finds out that she is part angel. Long story short - when I heard about "Mortal Instruments" I give up this idea. I'm not completely despondent because I got another idea that I'm working on now. It's looks good and coming along nice. I think I'm going to go back to that idea. Sometimes difficulties can push you to something better.

Good luck with your story.

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