Every Story Has Been Told Before

Today, YA Highway has a very interesting prompt:  What SNI (Shiny New Idea) were you psyched to work on, but discovered it was too close to something already done?

I have had this happen a few times, but luckily, I was always in the early planning stages.  I wanted to write a story about a society in which people received a letter detailing how and when they would die.  Totally sweet, right?  Yeah.  THE DEATHDAY LETTER by Shaun David Hutchinson.

A MG historical fiction about the Battle of Culloden.  PRINCE ACROSS THE WATER by Jane Yolen and Robert J. Harris.  Jane freaking Yolen.  No way I could beat that.

A YA girl version of DEXTER.  SLICE OF CHERRY by Dia Reeves.

But honestly, like many of the other bloggers have said today, it’s all about what you bring to the story.  I would probably be able to write a similar story to any of these and have it turn out completely different, with its own nuances and twists.  

Still, I totally gave up on these three ideas.  I think that with literary fiction and character-driven stories, it’s easier to allow for similarities in the market and to put unique spins on your story.  BUT, with higher concept ideas, it can be tough to sell your idea no matter how much of a unique spin you put on it.  If your pitch is too similar to something that exists already–say you’ve written a story about a boy wizard who goes to wizarding school–then you have a much harder road ahead.  And if you can get through the gatekeepers, or self-publish, you’ll spend more time defending your originality than enjoying your success.

So, the way I see it is, why make things so difficult for yourself?

Now, if you’ve already written the entire MS, then I could totally understand not wanting to scrap it when you find a similar idea.  Have any of you ever struggled with this?  Had to scrap a partially-finished MS because it was too similar to something else out there?

Share My Wisdom:


  1. Jennifer Hoffine says:

    “So, the way I see it is, why make things so difficult for yourself?”
    So true! The less impediments you have to getting published the better…save those great similar ideas for after a debut book.

  2. Laurie Dennison says:

    Yes, it is much easier to move on when the idea is still only an idea. Maybe you could write a story about a YA female soldier who enjoys killing her deserving victims in the battle of Culloden, but gets a mysterious letter telling her when she will die? 😉

  3. Donelle Lacy says:

    Yes, when it’s just an idea you haven’t really gotten that attached to it yet. You can say “oh well” and think up another one. When it’s a full-blown MS and you’ve sweated away over it, it’s something else entirely.

    I still have the hazy dream of writing a YA steampunk novel with a teenage character similar to Doctor Who. *shrugs* We’ll see, I guess.

    • Crystal says:

      See, I think that ideas are so different between the page and the screen that I would never give up on an idea because of a TV show or movie. Dr. Who strikes a real chord in a huge audience, and while you definitely wouldn’t want to be too similar, I think you could easily adapt the idea into an awesome YA (or MG) series.

  4. Angelica R. Jackson says:

    I think that even with high concept, if there’s enough of a difference, enough of a twist, there’s a chance for it to be published. Will it always be compared? Absolutely! And you should know that before you sign up for those comparisons.

    • Crystal says:

      I agree that you can twist a high concept idea enough to make it your own, but for me, I don’t think I could handle always being compared to another popular book/series. Although, really, I think every author and every book is compared to something else at some point anyway, so I guess it’s almost a moot point.

  5. Rebecca B says:

    That’s an interesting distinction between more commercial, higher-concept stories and literary fiction/character-driven ones. I agree–if your book will be a similar or common concept or theme, you really have to find a way to elevate it.

    • Crystal says:

      I think the danger comes with those instantly recognizable hooks–they’re awesome if you can come up with a fresh one, but if it’s already been done then your story is more likely to look derivative… Character stories don’t usually have as big and obvious of a hook.

  6. Robin Moran says:

    Luckily I’ve found similar novels, films, and tv programmes in the idea stage. I don’t know what I’d do if I had finished a manuscript and found the idea was already out there.

  7. Jillian says:

    I actually think a YA girl Dexter could be amazing, but you’re right that there’s no reason to make your publishing journey harder when you’re still at the idea stage. The Deathday Letter is definitely going on my to-read list too. Basically you seem have awesome ideas, even if someone else happened to use these three first. Best of luck with whatever cool concept you’re writing about instead!

    • Crystal says:

      Thanks! I never got around to reading THE DEATHDAY LETTER because I was sad that the author “stole” my awesome idea, so you’ll have to let me know how it is 😉

  8. Kirsten Lopresti says:

    Good points, particularly about high concept. I haven’t heard anyone put it like that before, but it makes sense. If the main strength of the work is a unique premise, that premise better be unique.

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