Story Ideas: Trusting your instincts

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(reposted from my private blog: Tuesday, April 3, 2007 – In response to The Aliens are Out to Get You!! from the YA highway on November 13th, 2009.)

After seeing a large bird circling over my old house last night, I went looking on-line for some pictures to confirm what kind it was.  As I suspected, it was a buzzard. While I was on-line I began searching images of other birds and on a whim searched on ‘rook’ for the book I’ve been writing.  Sparing the boring details (like exactly what my book is about), I discovered, much to my chagrin, that a comic book from the late 70’s / early 80’s entitled “The Rook” featured a time traveler who traveled in a time machine that resembled the rook of a chess set. That meant that if I proceeded with The Rook as the name of the alternate Citadel in the time travel book I’ve been writing for six years I would likely face questions of copyright infringement from the owner of an idea I’d never even heard of.

So . . . after my initial shock and disappointment (I’d spent months researching rook lore, habits, sounds, nesting patterns, mating practices, etc.), it was back to the drawing board to develop an identity for my antagonists. After some more research (and some deep breathing) I landed on . . . the Raven.

Perhaps this could be a blessing in disguise. Although “Raven Academy” doesn’t have the same impact as “Rook Academy”, this change actually may far better serve my book. Raven imagery is already deeply entrenched in mythology and classic literature. Despite this “apparent” setback, I’m looking forward to the new and interesting things I will learn about ravens as I move forward which will make my story even better in the long run!

I wrote the above post to myself because at the time I wasn’t a part of any writing community and needed to tell somebody what had happened.  A recent entry on the YA Highway blog brought it back to me so I thought I’d share.

Since writing those words I’ve had some time to learn and reflect.  Early on in my writing I abandoned a number of potentially good ideas because I was afraid they were too similar to what someone else had done and that I might be accused of plagiarism.  I can say now that if I’d had it to do over again, although I’ve incorporated the changes nicely, I don’t believe I would have changed anything in my original story.  Perhaps if I’d been connected to other writers back then I could have saved myself a lot of time learning lessons like these on my own.

All I really wanted to add is that the world of ideas is vast.  In some ways, ever since the Greeks, all of our ideas are really just variations on a number of recurring themes, but it’s the way we tell our stories, in our own words and from our own perspectives, that makes them uniquely our own.  As long as we are faithful in doing that, no one can accuse us of stealing our stories from anyone else.

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2 Responses to Story Ideas: Trusting your instincts

  1. Great story, John. Thanks for sharing. It can be utterly heartbreaking to learn that your idea isn’t the first of its kind, but you’re right, it’s the execution that matters. I really like the “Rook Academy.” Did you finish this project?

  2. Still a WIP, but coming along!

    This was the same one my YA highway Haiku was about.

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