Thursday, 30 June 2011

The fear of 'copycat' books

Sometimes I can’t get to sleep because I have an idea loudly buzzing around in my mind. Sometimes I have to run to work because I’ve lost track of time, plotting stories during the morning.
And often, after having spent ages churning the thoughts around, I lose all confidence and never put pen to paper.

Why? Because I think that it’s all been done before.

This is one of the two biggest reasons I procrastinate (the other being that I find something ‘more important’ to do…like the cleaning. Ugh.)  I have an idea about teens on the run in a dystopian future, then stop abruptly and think ‘that’s just like Meg Rosoff’s ‘How I Live Now.’’ I have an idea about a girl solving mysteries with her friends, then remember The Famous Five.

And once I’m in that rut I lose all momentum and excitement, and those passionate flames of creativity are nothing more than ashes and a few glowing embers niggling at the back of my mind – the remainder of something that I won’t allow into existence.

But the other day when I visited W H Smiths, I stopped in the children/YA section and had a good look around. I was drawn to the shelves by a sea of black covers. I picked up several and read the blurbs, and they all sold themselves with the same formula, involving teenage girls and vampire boys. Ring any bells? (It will probably ring several judging by the quantity on offer!)

These ‘copycat’ books follow a formula that sells, because people are demanding more books like ones they already love. There are only a certain number of stories in the world, and they have all been told thousands of times over with certain elements slightly changed to make them unique.

For example: the hero goes on a quest, conquers evil, wins the girl.
The reluctant hero goes on a quest, conquers evil, wins the girl.
The hero goes on a quest, conquers evil, doesn’t win the girl…

That might be quite a simplistic way of looking at it, but that’s just how it is. Would we have had Meyer’s Twilight without Stoker’s Dracula? Would we have had Dracula without Le Fanu’s Carmilla?

It is said that imitation is the highest form of flattery, so if we are inspired, and so long as there is no plagiarism, is it wrong to write a story similar to one we already know or love? History tells us no!

And if we don’t get our ideas on paper and bring our brain-children into existence it just might be that someone more daring goes and does it first. There’s no copyright laws for ideas after all!

I think I’m going to take a deep breath and take the plunge, and fight the urges that tell me ‘there’s no point’, because I don’t want to regret anything, especially something I haven’t done. And hopefully, if I show willing, a cleaning fairy will make my home all shiny and clean and remove all my other procrastination-inducing distractions…

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