Wednesday, January 31, 2018

What to Do When Your Ideas are in Someone Else's Book

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She has a podcast/vlog at www.StoryworldFirst.com. You can also find Jill on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. Tagboth (Tag for short) is a goldhorn dragon from Belfaylinn, a hidden fantasy realm on the western end of the Sargasso Sea. Jill is working on the first book of this tale for this year's Grow an Author series.

This past week, I read the first five chapters of Onyx Eyes that I wrote on my blog back in 2012. You can go read them too, if you'd like, but keep in mind, I will be making some changes. (Click here to see the chapter list.) 

Overall, I liked what I had of the story so far. I really like Drake, the side characters, and the feel of the story. I also read through the reader comments to familiarize myself with what had been working and what hadn't. Three problems arose from my read through.

1. Worldbuilding. I need more world building on the three races of fae people. They aren't feeling real and distinct enough for me. The physicality of wings/no wings/webbed fingers and toes set them apart, but I need it to go deeper. I want three distinct cultures with history and values and rituals and ways of life that are different for logical reasons that makes sense. This I will work on and discuss in next week's post.

2. Princess AyanaRynn and Drake's romance. It was a little odd for readers to read about Drake desperately searching for a kidnapped princess they had never met in the story. Because they liked Drake, the readers believed in his love and were rooting for him. But I didn't like the way the story was flowing without the princess "on screen," so to speak. My plan back then had been to rewrite Drake's first chapter so that the readers could meet Princess AyanaRynn and see how much she and Drake loved each other--before she was abducted.

Now, however, with my daughter's involvement in the story (ahem) my plans will have to change again. In the old story, the human Kaitlyn was NOT going to have a romantic subplot with Drake. Drake loved Princess AyanaRynn. But my daughter is opposed to this. She ships Drake and Kaitlyn. And since she is my child and since I stole her name for the story, I am prepared to let her have her way.

My first idea was the simplest. I would make AyannaRynn ten to twelve years old. She could still be in love with Drake, her handsome guardsman, but those feelings would be one-sided. I could even leave the chapters the way I had them and surprise both the human character Kaitlyn and the reader when Drake finally does find the princess and we see that she is still a child. My daughter approved of this plan. But when I read through the five chapters, it didn't fit. Those five chapters are designed around Drake's romantic love for the princess. Rewriting them would take more work than I want to do at the moment. (If I truly believed it was the right thing to do--the only way to fix things, then I would rewrite those chapters. But I didn't feel that way.)

So I thought about it for a while and came up with a secondary plan. One that was cruel to Drake, but one that I think will work, perhaps even better. In this story, the fae people can cast mask spells, which enable them to look like someone else. Drake does this when he goes into the Aerial kingdom to spy. And when his investigation leads him to Kaitlyn's home in the human realm, Drake instantly discovers that Kaitlyn's brother Quinn is a changeling wearing the mask of the human Quinn. Since I have set up this magic, why not make it (spoilers!) that Princess AyanaRynn is an impostor. She has been wearing the mask of the real AyanaRynn for several years, living in the Grounder kingdom, spying. And she started a romance with Drake because, hey. Who would know more about how things work in the kingdom than the captain of the guard?

This means I can leave most of the story as is, but I know that AyanaRynn is not AyanaRynn. Drake doesn't. He will discover the truth during the course of his investigation in the series and will become tragically heartbroken. And I'm thinking that when he does finally find AyanaRynn, she will not really know him, since she will have been imprisoned for so long.

Sad, huh?

But Kaitlyn will have been there for all of this. She will have become good friends with Drake, and once he learns the truth about AyanaRynn, his heart will be free.

So that is how I plan to deal with that problem, which brings me to the third problem I discovered while reading through my old chapters.




3. Ideas that are now in another published book. There were two things in my story that jumped out at me as similar to things in Sara Ella's Unblemished, which I read a few months ago. It's a funny thing about books. There are SO MANY out there. At some point, all writers come to realize that their ideas have been done already, in one way or another. It would be impossible to try and take out every idea that in any way mirrored another. Still, stumbling upon these two similarities was hard. I started writing this story back in 2010. By 2012 I'd published my five chapters on my blog. Sara's book was published in 2016.

None of that matters.

Sara's book was published. Mine is still unpublished. So now I must choose. Do I leave these two elements as they were and risk having people accuse me of copying her? Or do I change them?

That's a choice every author has to make for him or herself. Me, I'm going to change them. Kicking and screaming, a bit perhaps, but knowing that I'll feel better about it in the end.

What are the two elements that are so bothering me? I shall tell you.

First, when Drake casts his forbidden spell to bond with Tagboth the dragon and grow wings, he brings death upon himself. A slow death. From the inside. And since the theme of the story is black/sin, I had planned to show this with his blood turning darker until it was black. And that would show through his skin. Dark black veins. I thought this was cool.

So did Sara. She has a character whose veins turn black for a vaguely similar reason. So this felt too close.

Second, my fairies traveled through thin places. The Celts said that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even shorter. I liked this idea of doorways the fae people could travel through. So in my story, I decided that magical doorways could be formed anytime there was a combination of magic and water. I loved this idea. I especially loved that Drake could look into a glass of water and talk to his Grounder soldiers back home. Alas, in Unblemished, one travels between the realms through bodies of water. They swim through it and come up on the other side. Still, it felt too similar. To leave that as is in my story felt like I was copying that element as well.

Now, if I was writing for the adult fantasy market, I might just leave it as is. But since Sara wrote for YA fantasy readers and I'm writing for YA fantasy readers, it's pretty much the same market. And so these two things need to change.

I imagine you all have experienced this somewhere in your own writing/brainstorming. And, to be honest, it stinks! It's hard when you have things just so and are forced to start over and brainstorm something new. I get it. This sometimes happens during the editing stage of the story as well. Your editor might point out that something isn't working. And you might agree. But you also know that to fix it will take SO MUCH WORK. And you just want to weep.

Thankfully, my problems are not that much work to fix, though I really, really liked both of those things. And so I emailed Stephanie and Shannon and whined a little and asked what I should do. Because we all need to commiserate sometimes. Stephanie suggested I ask myself what other things show death in a body? What if this dying showed itself more like leprosy or nerve damage?

And as to the thin places, she asked what about something like hot springs or geysers? Sinkholes or Yellowstone where the ground is so unsteady, they've had people fall through crumbling ground?

I'm not sure yet what to do. I need to brainstorm, that's for sure. And I might not find a satisfying answer for a very long time. In fact, I might have to write the story and leave holes where such things would be described. Once I figure out how to fix those things, then I can go back in and edit. But that's where I'm at today.

Have you ever found your ideas in another book? Did you leave them or change them? If you changed them, how did you come up with something new? Share in the comments.

And if anyone has ideas how to fix my problems, feel free to share that too! ;-) 

36 comments:

  1. For the thin places, what about something with waterfalls? Like, there are caverns behind some waterfalls and THAT'S where the thin places are? And maybe he can see the others in his world when he stares at certain waterfalls--almost like the water turns into a magical screen. A waterfall-based, fairy version of Skype? I don't know...just a thought :)

    And what if the blackness was somewhere other than his veins? Maybe he once had light blue eyes (not sure if that would go against your worldbuilding or not but bear with me...) but they darken throughout the book until they turn black at the...ahem...black moment (or whatever you have planned.) And MAYBE, his vision suffers, too--not that he has to go completely blind, but that things seem hazier as his eyes grow darker. Or maybe that's cheesy. I don't know. Just a few random thoughts...

    Great post, as always!!

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    1. I was thinking about the eyes turning black too, so it's awesome that you already suggested it!

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    2. Thanks so much, ladies. GREAT ideas! I so appreciate them.

      Drake's eyes DO turn black. That's why the story is called Onyx Eyes. A fairy's eyes change colors depending on what types of stones they are using for magic. Since Onyx is black, Drake's eyes turn black, which is pretty creepy, if you think about it . . . So I do have that happening.

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  2. One of the major similarities I've found in my WIP and published books is dragon names. I have a little dragon that one of my characters carries around wherever she goes and I named him something similar to Gymn in The Dragon Keeper Chronicles. I didn't realize it at the time because it's been a while since I read them last, but now that I'm rereading them, the similarity is too much for me. So I have to find some alternative names for my dragon.

    Your story twists sound so cool! I hope you're able to find some ways to change the rest of the details soon!

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    1. Aww, that's a bummer. BUT--Donita's books are close to fifteen years old, so you might get away with some similarities there. Though I suppose it depends what they are. But it wouldn't be too hard to find a new name for your little dragon.

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  3. I haven't found anything as of yet. But your story sound cool. I really want to read it now. Changing Quinn is messed up, no offence, it makes me glad I don't go to public school.
    - Book Dragon

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    1. LOL! Yes, Quinn does a couple things in that prologue that I will be changing in the rewrite. I was watching too much TV back then, perhaps...

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  4. I can totally relate to this. Writing epic fantasy as I do, and taking an enormous amount of inspiration from Tolkien, I am always fighting to separate my book from being a LotR ripoff. It's working, but it's a very slow process--it takes a lot to come up with ideas/differences that don't just feel like they were thrown in to be different.

    In regards to your thin places problem--you have three different kinds of fae, each of which is tangentially associated with a different element: earth, water, and air. Why not make it so that they each have their own thin places in their respective elements, or something along those lines? The Aerials could somehow create or use doorways in air, the Grounders in earth, the merrows in water. It would conceivably be not too different from the current state of things while being different enough from Unblemished, I hope.

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    1. I was thinking almost the same thing. That is, the part about using more than using more than one element. My thoughts were along the lines of making the conditions for thin places more rare. May be there has to be an abundance of certain stones in the water and/or you have to have three particular stones to make an area thin.

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    2. Love the idea of the elements. That's very interesting. Or perhaps I can make it about the stones they use for magic, since I've already developed that. Thin places are supposed to be quite rare, as I understand them, so perhaps the fairies would need to go to certain locations to be near them before they worked their magic?

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  5. Thank you for this peep into your thoughts, Mrs. Williamson! My own experience with finding "my ideas" in other books was when I began my science fiction brainstorming and then read your book, "Replication." It seemed like there were a lot of similarities, including location, MC's motivation, genre, target audience, etc. What really impressed me about my feat is that I copied you before I even read your amazing book! Aren't I incredible? XD
    Sometimes, though, I think finding these similarities and having to change them can be a huge blessing (especially if the story is only in the brainstorming phase, not rewritten seven times and polished). Sometimes our first ideas about something are good and interesting, but if we're forced to rethink something, we come up with alternatives that throw a thrilling twist into the plotline, integrate the element more deeply into the storyworld, or simply mirror the deepest flavor of the author's creative soul. Of course, I haven't faced this predicament much yet, so I might change my tune later, but it seems to my blissfully unempathetic current self that the added pressure can create an even better product.
    I wish you the best in your brainstorming, Mrs. Williamson! I'll bet you'll come up with an idea that you just love.

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    1. So funny. I'm sorry, though, Olivia. That is SUCH a frustration when you're working on a story and read something so similar. It's like, what just happened here? But you're SO right. I bet in the end I will like my story more for the new things I've brainstormed. :-)

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  6. I don't know, but I don't think you have to give up on water. There are many other books that use the elements. Percy Jackson can use water to "call other" because his dad is Poseidon, but he has to throw in money the gods used. In Harry Potter, they use fire to "call" or travel but they have to use floo powder. The elements have been used so much that people might think it is cliche or it will make sense. I think you just have to put your own spin on it. You can do it. I'm looking forward to reading it.

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    1. It's true that elemental magic has been used to death. And long before Percy Jackson and Harry Potter's authors were even born! Everything has been used, but those two series have risen above the norm for what most "famous" authors achieve. So it does make sense to avoid anything that would feel similar to those series.

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  7. I have not had this problem, yet, but I'm always afraid I'm going to copy someone's else's ideas and not know it.
    As for the traveling you could use waterfalls (which I know was already mentioned, I just thought I'd put my vote in for it, too) or pools. They could step into the pools and it transport them to different types of pools. It could also work as a mirror type thing where you can look into it and see through all kinds of other pools, like to check the coast is clear.

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    1. Yes, I will think on these, Maggie. Thanks so much!

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  8. What an amazing post! I loved seeing your thought process and these "behind the scenes" decisions! It reminds me of when you did the THIRST series a few years ago - which I adored. And facing this question about "to strike or not to strike" was great! I see this happen in my writing a lot more than I would like (then again, I would like for it to be never).

    Recently, I was working on a plot where a set of people can shift into animals due to a sickness or curse. I wanted to call them morphlings, and had written quite a bit with that name. And then I read The Hunger Games for the first time, and found that Collins used that term for a drug and those addicted to it. Now, I'm still on the fence about it - while my book is a fantasy and hers is a dystopian, Hunger Games is still a very famous book and names are quite memorable. But this WIP has some other things that need to be fixed before I can really, truly devote myself to it, so I have time to think about it.

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    1. I should have made myself finish THIRST and self publish it. I was so close! I needed another two months at least, and I had to do other things. Now it will be hard to get back into it. IT was a fun project though. Thanks for reading it!

      Argh! That stinks. Yeah, Hunger Games is one of those "too famous" ones that really makes you wonder. You're right about the genres, though. That helps a lot. So does time, though.

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  9. Your story just sounds more and more interesting every time you post about it!
    I have had my story ideas show up in other books before. I had a dystopia all planned, the boy and girls names were Xavier and Cassie, and then the Matched series came out, with Cassia and Xander. It was easy enough just changing the names, since the plots were completely different.
    Another time I read the book of Esther and got an idea for a story that took place in the future, in a kingdom set up with a monarchy, and girls being summoned to the place so the prince could get to know them and choose one to marry. Of course The Selection came out, and when I read it I was terrified at how similar they were. I already had most of my story written, and it contained one of the girls falling in the love with a guard, and several other elements that were also in The Selection. So I just trashed the whole idea.

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    1. Aw, that's such a shame! That would be so hard to do. I'm sorry!

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    2. Oh, man, Maddie! What a double bummer! Maybe someday you'll come up with an idea to rework that Esther story that will totally thrill you. You never know.

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  10. Such a great post, thanks for sharing! I really like Stephanie's suggestion about the nerve damage.

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    1. The nerve damage intrigues me, but I'm not sure what that would look like. Would he have seizures? I'll have to do some research on this to get a good visual in my mind. Thanks, Ashley!

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  11. This was such a relatable post for me. The book I am currently writing has the same conflict/ending as a book that my friend's sister (who is a published author) wrote! The books are similar in the fact that both have two cousins who are at odds with each other until (spoiler alert) one gives up his life for the other. The second similarity is that both books take place in a Civil War setting.

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    1. How strange! I'm sorry, Theresa. That one is going to require some time for you to think and figure out what to do, I think. What a bummer. :-(

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    2. Thanks. It was kind of sad at first, but then it seemed kind of funny. ;)

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  12. I’ve had that happen. I like the idea of using the word Legacy to describe my characters powers.
    And then I read I Am Number Four, exact same idea. For your quandary with the sickness, what if he starts taking the form of a dragon? He grows scales, his eyes golden, but you die before the transformation is complete.

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    1. The idea of turning into a dragon sounds really interesting! It definitely has my vote.

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    2. Rats! Legacy is a cool name for powers.

      That's an intriguing idea about turning into a dragon. I will think more on that one. I did have an idea that if he cast a spell with a dragon to grow wings, might he take the dragon's wings? So perhaps the dragon is the one dying. Or maybe they're both dying somehow, which makes me think of ET, but that movie came out when I was five, so I think I'm okay on that similarity. ;-)

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    3. Is it a changing spell? What if Tagboth and Quinn will switch characteristics completely? What if Tagboth is a fae that performed this spell years ago? I hope I'm not derailing off the subject too much. :)

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    4. I think I'm definitely most on board with elements of this one, Jill. I like the idea of tying the dragon and Drake together.

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  13. LOOOOVE THIS POST, Jill! So real and it happens to all of us. The feedback here is fun as well.

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  14. Oh ouch!!! It's heartbreaking when you rant your ideas to a friend or sibling and they respond with the title of the movie or book that my idea reminds them of. I hate it when that perfect line or whatever happens to be in somebody else's book, or the amazing name is taken. Points for making up names!!!

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  16. Yep. This happened to me. A LOT.

    There's this book--I haven't read it yet, just heard of it--called The Tethered World. Let's just say it's eerily similar to my own Hanesion House series. Some things are different, though. Hopefully, different enough, because a lot of these things are basically the foundation of my whole story.

    Plus, a lot of my characters are similar to other characters in various other stories. That may or may not be on purpose, though. ;)

    And for your story problems? I think I like the idea from... oh, Anonymous, about turning slowly into a dragon but dying before the transformation is complete. And the idea of each of the different kinds of fae creating thin places in each of their elements (from CS C). Or the stones thing. Just giving my thoughts.

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