The Wrong Parallel


What would a writer do if he or she found out a scene in their completed, yet unpublished story closely paralleled a scene in a recently released, immensely popular work of fiction? Should the unknown, untried writer run right to the keyboard and change it? Or wait and see what the professionals have to say about it all?

Part of me would want this writer to stick to his or her guns, to insist that sometimes coincidences happen in writing and that no fault can be laid with them. Shit happens. The other part (the larger, louder part) thinks that this writer is backed against a wall with no hopes of coming out looking good. After all, we’re talking about a novel by an author who’s fairly well off and reasonably well-loved. When it comes down to accusation time by critics and readers (and it will, of that I have no doubt), no one will believe that this unknown writer had the idea first (or, at the very least the same time). No, the literary masses will think the unknown writer read this novel and snatched up a touching scene (involving a character they’re already sensitive about) and bastardized it for profit, hoping to get away with a rip-off.

And why shouldn’t they?

They don’t know the unknown writer. No one does. And no one’s read the story except a veteran author, a pair of novice writers and one civilian. It’s newbie’s word against a drove of hardcore fans. It’s not going to look so good.

So, what for this writer? Defeat? Wave the white flag while running pell-mell in the opposite direction, screaming, “Sorry! Sorry!” all the way?

I suppose my sparse, untried advice is for the unknown to suck it up for now, see which way the wind blows, and then take it from there. After all, while the entire theme is eerily correlative, the resoundingly similar parts can be (if the unknown writer stops huffing, swallows a big throatful of pride and reads this with equanimity) changed with little effort. And maybe the Big Guns won’t see it as such a big deal, anyway. Maybe.

I suppose this is a first step for the unknown writer; a freshman dip into the skin-toughening baptismal font. That the unwelcome initiation came from nowhere, sneaking up in the guise of a long-anticipated read, well, I suppose that, too, can be a lesson of sorts for the unknown writer.

About Avery

I am a roller derbying, dark fantasy author. This blog chronicles my adventures in life, writing and skating. View all posts by Avery

9 responses to “The Wrong Parallel

  • Christina

    I think the author should just leave it in until the book gets picked up and maybe (I’m a little weak on the maybe because I really have no idea) mention it to the agent that there is a part that closely relates to another story.When I first started writing, someone once said, “If you have the idea, someone else does too.”

  • avery

    Steve — I’m fairly certain she and I both read the same information on certain metaphysical theories to come up with this similarity. I’m fine with changing it, though. It’s not going to go anywhere near, “Jenga,” and I’m taking it as a chance to make that particular passage even more interesting.Sqt — “Hopefully you’ll have a big enough name someday that everyone will have to make sure they’re not copying you.”What’s that saying? From your mouth to God’s ear?

  • SQT

    I read a book by Tad Williams that had a scene eerily reminiscent of the 9/11 attacks that was published after 9/11. He said he fretted about it but left it in. Tough call. Yours is different though. If someone can point a finger and claim any kind of plagiarism then I would change what I needed to. Though I would be loath to mess up my storylines or change too much. Hopefully you’ll have a big enough name someday that everyone will have to make sure they’re not copying you.

  • Steve Malley

    I spent two years drawing my second graphic novel. It was all about little-heard-of subjects like the Priory of Sion, the Knights Templar, genetic engineering and the bloodline of Jesus. The month I finished it, I started hearing buzz about this prose novel that dragged Leonardo DaVinci into it, too… It happens.Mostly, I see people worry about these things, it’s one of two things: a genre convention (private eye beat up by thugs as warning) or two projects both cribbing a third source (Lord of the Rings and its influence on fantasy). Either way, Sidney’s right: if you can rewrite it without the whole story going “Jenga!”, your work will probably improve. If not, leave it and try not to worry too much…

  • avery

    Sidney — Thanks for stopping by, and for the advice and support. I suppose all of our works somehow echo something written at some point. It seems utterly unavoidable. I guess it’s how we handle it and move on that matters.

  • Sidney

    It’s a tough call. If you can do it without hurting your work that’s certainly the safest and will make your novel seem more original and fresh even though it wasn’t influenced by the other work.I once had an editor say a book of mine on the table for consideration was similar to a book I hadn’t read by a famous author. Good luck with your effort.

  • avery

    I think you’re both right; the only thing to do is make some changes, and understand this isn’t the first (or the last) time something like this will happen.

  • Kate S

    Ah, man, that sucks. It happens frequently, though, if that’s any consolation. It has happened to me, and I’ve read posts where it has happened to other people too. The only proof is that your MS was out there being shopped around before the other book came out.

  • Charles Gramlich

    I don’t know how I’d react in this case. I’d want to stick to my piece as it was written, but for the sake of selling it would I would probably make at least some cosmetic changes.You’re probably right, no on would believe the unknown writer if he/she were accussed of borrowing the idea.

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