“Have you ever had to significantly rework a story…?”

A reader asked me this on Tumblr:

Asker merclr asks:
Have you ever had to significantly rework a story (script or novel) because you learned late in the game that another writer or team appeared to be working along a similar premise? Do you find that happens more often than not today, given how quickly inspiration spreads over sites like Tumblr?


Not while in progress, no, but that’s because I believe that the originality of the story matters less than the telling of it. Every writer has their own voice, and thus every writer will tell the same story differently. What you’re describing seems to me more about similarity of plot than of story, for instance. I can think of stories going back to Greek myth that are essentially the same at their core — journey of discovery, revenge, redemption, etc — but how they’re told matters far more to me than whether or not someone’s told it before.

That said, I’ve abandoned pursuing some ideas because they’ve seemed identical to material that’s already out “in the wild.” Matt Fraction and I had discussed a story that, at first blush, sounded an awful lot like True Detective, and thus we didn’t pursue it. Having now seen True Detective, I know we’d have written something very, very different, but the concern was a valid one during the planning stage, by way of example.

When LAZARUS started, Michael and I kept hearing that it was a lot like Game of Thrones. That may well be true. I don’t know, I’ve never seen the show nor read the novels. But worrying that “this is yet another dystopian society where families are struggling for political dominance” makes it too similar to an extant work seems to me a zero-sum game. You write the story you want to tell, and sometimes there’s going to be crossover, certainly, but in the end, I maintain, it comes down to how YOU tell YOUR story that matters most. The beauty of writing is that we are each unique in our voice and our vision, and if we’re lucky, we can convey that through our words (and images and music and etc, etc, etc).

There’s a Hemingway quote (or is it Fitzgerald? I can never remember…) that says, roughly, every story is either Jack and the Beanstalk or Cinderella, that it’s only the details that change. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it makes the point, I think.

Just my opinion. YMMV, as they say.

alexwoolfson alexwoolfson said:

I very much agree with this:

I believe that the originality of the story matters less than the telling of it.

I know a lot of beginning writers worry about “copying” other writers. I myself get an email about every other month from someone wanting to write a story with a gay superhero with fire powers, now convinced they can’t create that story because The Young Protectors is already out there in the world. And I always tell them that if they have juice for that kind of story, don’t let that stop them—they should have at it!

Copying exact plot points and dialogue is one thing, but there are lots of great ways to tell the same story. Worrying about engaging with similar topics/characters as another writer will, for the most part, be a waste of a writer’s time, IMHO, and potentially rule out some wonderful stories. What matters is the telling. The fact that you are following your own muse will almost always take you to different places anyway.

(And, just for the record, near the exact same time The Young Protectors got started, another fun webcomic called The Class began too—with a gay superhero with fire powers! The author of that comic and I became FB friends after so I know that we both came up with our characters completely independently. If you find yourself worried about “copying” another work, compare The Class to The Young Protectors and you can see how an individual writer’s vision makes all the difference. Fascinating, actually.

EDIT: It seems like the webcomic hosting service for The Class is down at the moment. Be sure to check out the comic when it’s back up, though!)


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