Monday, November 12, 2007

Cruel Coincidences

Le Journal Illustre,
Edouard Manet,
The Art Institute of Chicago.

Warning: Touchy subject.
Last week, Raine blogged about an astonishing coincidence -- not to mention flabbergasting, staggering, stupefying and stunning -- whereby the basics of the plot of an MS she had circulated later showed up in a published novel, complete with a shocking similarity of names and nick-names.

We know there are no new plots and new ideas are likewise scarce; but when this type of coincidence happens, a writer is naturally left with a number of uneasy, indignant, WTF thoughts.

One of them the fear that everyone will think they are common copiers -- even though their story had been completed long before -- since the first to be in print holds the high ground automatically.

It's a frustrating, embarassing situation.

And likely one of the reasons, besides pure ego, for that coterie of eyes-left-eyes-right writers who firmly believe that publishers -- or other writers -- are hell-bent on stealing their stories.

That belief unfortunately gains credence when an editor or agent comments, as some have, that they are always on the look-out for scenarios -- from news items, from the slush, from the net -- that they can pass on to their established clients as suggestions for novel development.

Subliminally, intuitively, or deliberately, writers likely do the same thing.

Certainly I'm not the only one who has commented on the plot-bunny potential of some news stories or has noted the channelling effect that results in similar blog topics.

Given a set of facts, the narrative mind usually follows a predictable logic -- which can result in some remarkable and alarming similarities.

And wouldn't you know it? One of Raine's heroines bore the surname St.Claire.

Further, I have noticed that an unusual number of heroines in queries and synopses I've read recently have been named variants of Lillie.

Now I could go into a long explanation of how I arrived at the name, including the legend that the lily is a symbol of the leannan sidhe. But I won't.

Somewhere out there, there must be an over-muse giggling in malicious glee.
Superior Words:
According to Bower's The Superior Person's Book of Words, meaning to swarm like ants.
Useful in the same fashion as masticate and mensuration to discomfit the unwary.


Vesper said...

How scary and sad!

StarvingWriteNow said...

I know this was common practice back in Shakspeare's day, and I know that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, BUT-- I think I'd be mad, mad, mad... and investigating that other author. Just call me Miss Suspicious.

Bernita said...

And totally frustrating, Vesper.

Of course, writers have no idea of the number of similar MSS that might be circulating with the same inciting incident- perhaps triggered by a real-life, real-time event.
Seeing a story about the Son of Krakatua made me wonder if we'll soon see some tales with volcano-as-back-drop, for example. But I'd be more inclined to be curious about a pivotal editorial-type person within the industry.

And yes,Starving, I'd be mad, mad, mad, too, but these coincidence do occur, without impropriety on the part of any party.
Doesn't mean we have to like it though.

Robyn said...

I remember there being a kerfluffle about one author's series being named The Brotherhood since it came out after The Black Dagger Brotherhood. Yes, it did put one in mind of the previous series, obviously, but brotherhoods have been around since there was more than one man.

Bernita said...

Right, Robyn.
Brotherhoods, the Black Botherhood for one, were rather popular in the literature of arcane sciences - Theosophy or its off-shoots for example, if I remember rightly - and probably still are.

spyscribbler said...

Yeah. I had one novel perfectly planned with this great, original twist, and what do you think happens? *sigh* And then someone else came out with a spy novel with the same name!

Maybe writing in a bubble isn't such a bad thing.

Bernita said...

Sometimes, Natasha, I think it might be imperative!
It can certainly shake one's confidence to find out another author's great mind is thinking similar thoughts.

Charles Gramlich said...

Back in the 90s I wrote a series of vampire stories featuring a vampire who was Judas Iscariot. Later, Dracula 2000 was released and the main vamp was "Judas Iscariot." Since my stories were all published by a magazine in California, near Hollywood, I've always wondered if there was a connection. But it's quite possible the idea occurred to others besides me.

Bernita said...

Things that make you go hmmm.
I would find, to paraphrase Nero Wolf, that coincidence a little suspect.

Scott from Oregon said...

Similarities seem to be one of the pitfalls of writing for a genre.

I mean, if you have Vampires, what else are they gonna do but drink blood and kill people?

Bernita said...

"Vampires, what else are they gonna do but drink blood and kill people?"

-You might be surprised, Scott.

I think all writing conforms to "genre", even if it's not called that.

raine said...

(Raine, covering her test paper with both hands...)

I've always been astonished when this happened to me--and it's happened more than once--but STUNNED to find it occurring so frequently with OTHER writers as well. News events? Trends? I don't have an answer.
But it is definitely an eerie, embarrassing feeling. A malicious, giggling muse indeed.

And dear Bernita, you will certainly get a kick out of hearing that this weekend (before your blog post), just for fun, I wrote and mailed off a very short story to one of the contests I found on your website.
A story about a volcano. :-O

December/Stacia said...

I firly believe that ideas float in the ether. It's why I try not to think of my story ideas much before I start writing, on the superstitious fear that it will bloat them with power and make them easier to grab.

Bernita said...

A story about a volcano

Raine, ideas must have some ethereal existence and float about on psychic waves or something.
That example bit only occurred to me about 4:15 this morning.

Bernita said...

It would seem - from this example - you have reason, December!

Gabriele C. said...

I wonder if I'm too open about my projects. I don't mean the snippets, but the blurbs linked in my sidebar and the occasional discussion of plots and problems on my blog.

Bernita said...

Gabriele, I have wondered the same thing about my stuff.
And really, I think synopses should be banned.

Chumplet said...

Another fear is when you have a great idea and take too long to finish it, while at the same time telling everyone about it because you want to know if the concept will fly.

When someone else flies with it before you finish yours, you kick yourself in the pants for dragging your heels for so long.

Must... finish... novel!

Bernita said...

Sandra, you are reading my mind...

SzélsőFa said...

If we suppose that its not copying:
Isn't it like that somewhere in the spheres, an idea is floating, coming down like a dandelion's seed, and the writers' mind try to reach it. Many writers try to catch the very same idea in the same time.
And that might be the reason for so many people coming up with similar ideas at nearly the same time.

(I like this idea of mine.
Who else has the same in his/her head right now?)

Sam said...

Well, you can chalk it up to subconscious sharing too.
Jack is suddenly 'The Name' to use, and when I started my book (over 2 yrs ago) I was looking for a name that wasn't very popular. LOL.
Writing is such a lenthy long process, and then there is the publishing that takes eons, (including subbing to agents, publishers, waiting, editing...) that if two books do appear that are similar, I tend to thing 'coincidence' before 'copycat!' (Of course, I have been called naive on more than one occasion...)
But I subbed Zombie Jack under the title Jack's back - and the publisher had just finished edits on a book guessed it - Jack's Back.
And another time I subbed a book set in a place called Winterland. I sent it to my crit partner for a look, and she wrote back that Her newest Book was set in Winterland too!
It was as if our brians were on the same wavelength.
I changed my Winterland to Hivernia (not a problem) But my crit partner was grateful because she'd just started edits and she didn't want to have to deal with changing all the names.
Oh, I talk too much!!!

Bernita said...

Szelsofa, your idea "coming down like a dandelion's seed," - all those tiny parachutes - makes a charming picture.

Do not, Sam. It's very interesting.

Jeff said...

If I ever see Lester show up as a character in someone's novel, I'm going to be very suspicious.
There's only one of that clod-hopping hillbilly, and he belongs to me! ha! ha!

kmfrontain said...

I can't believe anyone could think it's possible to get away with plagiarizing in the age of the internet. It's too easy to prove that a story existed years before a plagiarist published their version. All you need is a single blog post with a discussion about the plot bunny, an excerpt, people commenting on the post. Must be that plagiarists are very stupid.

Bernita said...

Jeff, I wuvs Lester. He is so sweet.

I wonder if one would also have to prove a plagiarist saw, or could resonably be expected to have seen, the material in question, Karen?
But yes, I agree that plagiarism is dumb, dumb, and dumb.

spyscribbler said...

LOL, Bernita! When you put it that way--"another author's great mind is thinking similar thoughts"--it doesn't sound so bad! :-)

Demon Hunter said...

There are coincidences and sometimes people steal. Great minds do tend to think alike. If something is a little too similar, anyone would get nervous and frustrated.

writtenwyrdd said...

I have had some ideas I was working on appear in a movie or book. Several times, at least. I think that the akashic record is being accessed by more than one person at a time, lol.

Seriously, there is something that ties people together that causes these strange coincidences. It goes way beyond a million chimps with typewriters for probability!

Demon Hunter said...

Bernita, I finally stopped being a lazy bum and added your link to my blog.

Bernita said...

Just tweaking the platitude, Natasha.

You're right, Written. There probably is some obscure trigger.

Demon Dear, thank you. I am so far behind in up-dating mine it isn't funny.
I plead incompetence.

Ello said...

This was a scary post. For awhile back, there was a new site called the next best writer or something like that and people would post their full manuscripts for others to critique. I was always bothered by the idea of it even though it was technically a closed community and bagged out quickly. But I thought that was just asking to be stolen from.

Bernita said...

Fulls, Ello?
Oh dear.
Increases the odds, I would think.
A writer determined to improve should be able to deduce and fix many of their weaknesses from intelligent critiques of a few snippits.

Ello said...

Yes and at the very least, they should be in a smaller group or have trusted readers. But to put your full on the internet for all to read and gawk at, just didn't seem smart.