Oh No, Someone's Already Thought of It!

Guttersnipe

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What do you do when you find your "unique" idea for a story/novel has already been taken? Do you still write it down?
I'm asking because I came up with an idea years ago about a character who receives telepathy due to a special hearing aid,
and just yesterday discovered that this was the premise of a Twilight Zone radio episode. I don't know whether I should
proceed with my story if it means I'll be called a plagiarist. What's your experience and what should I do?
 

worldofmutes

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If only you knew all the copyright infringement that happens with self-published books, you wouldn’t even be concerned.
 

msstice

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tl;dr it does not matter. Write your story.

This is a pretty common question/concern. I will relate the received wisdom, and then relate a personal experience.

The received wisdom falls under the heading "ideas are cheap". This is a philosophy that is seen through out business and the arts. Here is Sanderson's take:

My personal (not a published author yet, still rewriting my first novel) experience has been this: The initial outline for my current WIP changed dramatically as I started to write the story.

At some point I watched a bit of The Expanse, then I stopped (I found the violence too much), but some friends would tell me the plot from time to time. I realized that the TV series (Haven't read the novels) had elements in common with my old outline (Mars, Earth, Asteroid belt at war) while my current story is quite different.

I did not consciously make it different. As I wrote, the story evolved organically from the seed and has becomes something very related to who I am and what I like.

I'm sure your story, once you begin to write it, will evolve to be your own thing. You have your own taste, style and sense of what stories should be told, and they will be much larger than any superficial significance to any idea.

To be honest, your description reminds me of several things I have already read/seen in Star Trek, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I'm sure I read a myth somewhere about putting something in your ear to be able to hear different languages etc.
 

K.S. Crooks

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I would write my story and only when it's done listen to the radio show to see how similar. You are likely going to have different settings, different characters, different problems faced and choices made in the story to make yours unique enough.
 

tinkerdan

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One thing I learned long ago, if you think you have an original idea you either haven't searched out enough books on the subject or what led you to that idea has or will soon lead someone else there.

Bottom line, if the idea grabs you you need to write the story as soon as possible or accept that someone else will.

All that aside; my two published books are based on ideas I had in 1970 or there about and I got some 400 pages of bad writing from it then; that later evolved into the two books that I published some 40 years later--by then my ideas were in use in other works.

It's not the idea but how you write, how well you write, and how your writing grabs the reader and immerses them into the book.

If you don't write the story well enough--someone else will.
Just keep writing.
 

Steve Harrison

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I spent years writing screenplays and used to laugh at release forms sent out by producers which said, we may be considering material similar or identical to yours. I stopped laughing when I saw a preview of a new movie with not only a very similar premise to my WIP at the time (which no had seen), but a thirty second scene word for word the same as mine. And thirty seconds of screen time is a lot of material!

I couldn't believe it at the time, but with so many people writing I now figure it must be happening all the time and that ideas are not original, only the writer's take on the material.
 

msstice

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I spent years writing screenplays and used to laugh at release forms sent out by producers which said, we may be considering material similar or identical to yours. I stopped laughing when I saw a preview of a new movie with not only a very similar premise to my WIP at the time (which no had seen), but a thirty second scene word for word the same as mine. And thirty seconds of screen time is a lot of material!

I couldn't believe it at the time, but with so many people writing I now figure it must be happening all the time and that ideas are not original, only the writer's take on the material.
What was the movie and scene?
 

paranoid marvin

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If you look long and hard enough, you will likely find that most ideas have been thought of already by someone else. It's all a matter of degrees though. If you write about a boy wizard called Barry Trotter, you will raise eyebrows; if it shares a similar premise with an old radio show, then it won't.

I get that you don't want anyone to think that you are unimaginatively ripping off someone else's idea, but this really doesn't sound like this is the case here. If you haven't already, don't listen to the TZ episode before writing your story, otherwise it likely will influence your writing. Likely when you do finish your book and compare it with the radio show, they will turn out to be very different.
 

Astro Pen

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Sometimes you read "Based on an idea by...." Which creates an impression that all ideas, once expressed, are copyright but I think not.

Lets put it this way How many shows have you watched where detectives thwart a cocaine shipment from a small boat into Miami?
Yes you can still write one.
 

Juliana

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If you look long and hard enough, you will likely find that most ideas have been thought of already by someone else.
And most of them will be wildly different from each other. You can look at ten books that on the surface seem like the same plot, but they each have a unique approach. So don't worry about if your idea has been taken, just at how you're giving your own spin on the theme.
 

Matteo

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Damn!

I've just been putting together a rough draft of a story I thought of.

It concerns a guy who is a writer of speculative fiction who comes up with a plot about a man who starts to receive telepathy through a hearing aid. The writer thinks the idea is one that has come up before and so goes on to a social media site to ask fellow writers. They respond with advice and...

;)
 

Vladd67

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Damn!

I've just been putting together a rough draft of a story I thought of.

It concerns a guy who is a writer of speculative fiction who comes up with a plot about a man who starts to receive telepathy through a hearing aid. The writer thinks the idea is one that has come up before and so goes on to a social media site to ask fellow writers. They respond with advice and...

;)
Couldn't be any worse than Lucille Ball's claim that she picked up a spy's Morse code through her teeth fillings. Social media is a mine of ideas.
 

Lumens

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I just got an idea for a story about a writer who has an idea that somebody thought of before. Has that been done yet?

Jokes aside, I think we can some times get too focused on what's original and unique. Ideas are great but when you tell a story you are at the same time expressing something unique to you. Your voice is what you should work on in my opinion and that's what makes you "original".
 
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JS Wiig

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Since we are all unique individuals, the probability of a particular idea being done in the particular way you would do it is roughly one in seven billion. Just do it!
 

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