Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Tinfoil Hats and Inconvenient Ideas

I may need to start wearing tinfoil hats because either I'm tapping into other people's brainwaves and picking up on their ideas or other people are tapping into my brainwaves and picking up on my ideas.

The latest case: Yesterday I was taking advantage of having some free time by cleaning my kitchen thoroughly. As so often happens when I'm doing mindless work, an old Inconvenient Midpoint Idea bubbled up to the surface.

As an aside, an Inconvenient Midpoint Idea is one of those shiny new ideas that strikes just when you're slogging through the middle of a book, when you've passed the fun and excitement of initially creating the characters and discovering their world but you aren't yet at the exciting conclusion. You're doing the hard part that requires thinking and planning, and at times you're tempted to write "and then the aliens landed and killed everyone. The End." The Inconvenient Midpoint Idea is The Other Woman of writing. The book you're working on is the reality of what happens after the initial thrill of the idea, when it's work that's sometimes tedious. It's the very non-glamorous part of writing. But then that shiny new idea pops up, and it's all fantasy. It doesn't yet have all the work and thinking attached to it, and it's easy to forget that if you pursue it, eventually it will be the book you'll be slogging through when yet another idea pops up. A lot of potential writing careers are sabotaged by the Inconvenient Midpoint Idea when writers are lured by the shiny new idea that's so much better than the thing they're working on, and as a result, they never actually finish a book because they jump to the new idea when things get hard.

This particular Inconvenient Midpoint Idea hit me in the spring this year, and it was particularly inconvenient because it was an idea for a sequel to the book I was working on. There was no point in even stopping to consider this idea until I finished the current book and sold it, but that didn't stop it from consuming my brain. I did a big brain dump, just writing down everything in my head about it, and that allowed me to submerge it in my subconscious so I could get back to work. Since I've finished that book, that idea bounced up for further consideration.

And that's when I realized that my idea is very similar to a couple of things that have come on TV between then and now -- things I had no idea were coming when I had this idea. Considering production schedules, I'd guess they were gearing up for production, maybe finalizing the initial scripts, around the time I got my idea.

Of course, these ideas would have been in development for some time, but then so was mine. It actually started with a dream I had years ago when I essentially dreamed an episode of a TV series. I liked some of the plot elements of that dream and mentally played with them off and on, figuring out how they might develop over a hypothetical season of the series (yes, this is how I amuse myself). I really liked the story I came up with for the "season finale," and then I started trying to figure out how I could take that story and remove it from the universe of that series, file off the serial numbers, cast new characters and make it an entirely new story. I'd already stolen another aspect of the daydreaming that came out of this dream for something else, but this one was more difficult.

So the Inconvenient Midpoint Idea that came probably around the time these series that turned out to be based on something really similar were going into production was about how that concept could work with the characters I was writing at the time, and then I knew how I could make use of that concept, with it being the natural follow-up to what I had planned to happen at the end of the book I was working on. That turned it from an "idea" to a "story idea."

And, no, I'm not telling what it is because I think by the time I'm through with it I'll be the only one who notices the similarities, but if I say something, then that will be waving a red flag so people will be looking for parallels or similarities. If it ever gets published. And, no, the idea doesn't have anything to do with fairy tales, so that's not the trend I subconsciously plucked out of the ether. There was one thing I was planning to throw in as what would have been a subtle inside joke that I will have to change because that will make the comparisons more obvious now, but while I'm exploring similar things, the actual story will end up being very different.

But, really, I may have to shield my brain when I'm working. I don't like having to twist so hard to avoid looking like I'm copying. It's bad enough that the book I was reading yesterday turns out to have some thematic similarities and even similar terminology to a book I wrote last year. It's different enough that I might be the only one who sees the similarities, but it's still disconcerting.

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