I have an idea…oh, so did they!

In 2010, Google estimated that nearly 130 million books had been published in history.  On top of that, another study predicts there’ll be a whopping total of 2,702,243 films made by the year 2020.  Behind each of these, there’s a writer with a story—fictional or nonfictional—, making the very notion of originality seem incomprehensible.  Sure, we’re all different, but can there possibly be that many separate plots?

In short, no.  There are countless resemblances in storylines on paper and on film. This summer alone has brought two television series about actors turned detectives—both of which I enjoy.

In the case of several of my books, I’ve encountered other works that share characteristics with my stories.  I started the first draft of what became Forgetting My Way Back to You in 2008, thinking the idea of a woman forgetting the man she loved was pretty unique.  Imagine my sickened feeling, then, when I saw the trailer for 2012’s The Vow, which follows a wife losing memory of her husband after a car accident!  Before my book could even be published, it already had a rival.

Also in 2012, I started Husband in Hiding, a mystery about a man named Wes, who, after meddling in his detective wife’s case, has to flee into Witness Protection to be taken off the mob’s hit list.  Mere weeks, I believe, before I began writing the book, I saw a preview for a thriller about—you guessed it—witness protection.  To boot, the protagonist’s name was Weston, my original choice for my main character.  After overcoming the shock, I shortened the name and carried on with my tale.

Such instances disheartened me, as I saw I didn’t have the individuality I thought I did, and I feared readers would think I copied the blockbusters.  I came to realize, however, that art spawns art.  As I mentioned earlier, there can be several different shows, books, or songs that have similar themes, but they all bring their own spin.  For the right audience, they can draw off and add to each other’s success.

Even so, we must protect our own work from inspiring another one that’s too similar to ours.  In fact, the question I’m asked most frequently is how do I protect myself from plagiarism.  Like most authors, I turn to the Library of Congress to take care of that.  They’ll copyright an original piece of literature, music, or art for $35.  Go to Copyright.gov for details.

Sean Lennon gave a frank summation, “There are only a few stories to tell in the end…”  That’s the truth.  However, we all have one to tell and our own way of telling it.  Hence, don’t despair when someone else has a similar one-of-kind idea to yours; you can still be one-of-a-kind.

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