So, right. Originality.
I haven’t read Red Queen yet, but this discussion often comes up when a book blows up big time, and I think it’s an interesting one to consider. Just how important is originality?
It’s no secret that The Hunger Games starts off very much like “The Lottery.” Twilight was hardly the first popular vampire book, Fifty Shades of Grey was originally Twilight fan fiction, and Harry Potter was not the first book about wizards or boys in boarding school.
So why did they become so popular? There are a lot of reasons to be sure, but a large part of it is very much what the lovely person behind the New Leaf Literary tumblr said: they took “certain elements that have been done before and [spun] them around a little and present[ed] them in a different way.”
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This is why book comps can be so great in a query—they show agents and editors the potential marketability of a project by showing something familiar readers have responded to in the past mixed with whatever your spin is.
The key, of course, is to remember that you don’t want to write a rip-off of something else. Besides the obvious moral issue, that’s not what anyone wants, and that’s not going to sell. Instead, x meets y references elements of those comparisons.
I’m going to use my book as an example. When I was querying Beyond the Red, I pitched it as The Girl of Fire and Thorns on a technologically advanced alien planet. I wasn’t saying that I plucked Elisa from the world Rae Carson created and threw her into a sci-fi setting (I didn’t). Instead, I was referencing similar elements—an otherworldliness, a desert setting, and monarchies/rulers. There are similarities without going anywhere near the line of “too close.”
Stories inspire stories, and when you dig down to the heart of a narrative, many of them have been told time and time again. That’s to be expected, and it’s okay because readers gravitate to them over and over again.
So I guess the point I’m trying to make is not to stress if your book has some similar elements to another story, or if a book releases that sounds somewhat similar to the one you’re working on. As long as your book isn’t too similar (i.e.: has the same plot, or you purposefully lifted characters or something that you would obviously know wasn’t you—that's called plagiarism and is so not what I'm talking about), you should probably be in the clear. If anything, it may even help you in the long run.
What do you think? How original are original ideas?
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