Monthly Archives: August 2010

It’s kind of like…

Teenagers are forced to fight to the death in a government-sanctioned arena with media watching their every move, backpacks full of supplies, and only the last one standing gets to live.

You’ve read that before, right? I mean, I know I’m not the only person who’d read and loved The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. But it isn’t The Hunger Games I’m talking about – it’s about a little-known (in America, at least) book called Battle Royale, by Koushun Takami.

Both have similar premises. Both have similar elements. There has been much hoo-ha raised over this all over the net, and if you’ve read review of The Hunger Games on Amazon, it’s kind of hard to avoid hearing about Battle Royale.

However, at the end of the day, they are not and will never be the same book. Despite their similarities, these two stories are executed in such different ways: one with one culture in mind, and the second with another, completely different culture in the forefront. Just reading the first chapters of each makes this abundantly clear.

Battle Royale hasn’t stopped the tidal wave that is The Hunger Games, and I’d wager that The Hunger Games‘ popularity has even helped the sales of Battle Royale in America. So why all the fuss? Even if Collins was aware of Battle Royale before she wrote her books, so what? They aren’t the same book. Yes, there are similar ideas, but frankly if you pick up any two books in the same genre – especially within the YA subset – you will probably find similarities between them.

Just because there’s another book out that’s similar to an idea you had, whether you had it before or after you became aware of that book, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write your story. You will, without a doubt, execute the story differently than the other author, and frankly teens love fads. Once they read a book they love, they’re eager to gobble up every other book like it on the market. Riding coattails isn’t exactly what every writer dreams of, but if it’s a story you’re passionate about and desperately want to tell, then write it anyway. The worst thing that can happen is it doesn’t get published.

But isn’t that better than having a story eating away at you? Than having to deal with what if I had written that anyway?

Write the story you want to write. As long as it’s not about a boy wizard going to a magical school called Hogwarts, where they play a game on broomsticks and an evil Dark Lord wants to kill him, or about a girl who moves to a small town in Washington and falls in love with a vampire who looks eerily like Cedric Diggory, chances are you’ll be okay.

And if you’re not, so what? At least you have that story off your back, and there is no better way to learn to write than to write as much as you can – and to learn from the mistakes you made while doing so.

Your book should have its own flavor, its own twist, its own feel, its own characters – and it will, simply because you are not Suzanne Collins or JK Rowling or Stephenie Meyer. But if you have a semi-similar premise, don’t sweat it. The market is rife with teenagers meeting their supernatural soulmates in biology class, given a second chance after dying to fix the wrongs in their lives, or extraordinary teens going to special schools (or camps, cough, Rick Riordan) to help develop their talents. And you’d never compare Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series to Harry Potter, would you?

…would you?

Once upon a time, on the first day of a screenwriting class I took, we were each asked to go around the room and pitch our stories by comparing it to other movies. Twilight meets When Harry Met Sally, or Titanic meets The Little Mermaid – it’s considered a good thing to be able to do that and set off bells in the producer/executive’s mind, not in the least because they know that the movies you’re talking about have been successful, and therefore there is a good chance that the story you’re pitching will be successful as well.

As long as it’s executed correctly, that is, and isn’t actually Twilight meets Shallow Hal or something.

The point is, don’t purposely mine other books for ideas, but if something strikes you because of a book you’ve read, you don’t have to ignore it, either. There is no such thing as the original idea. Even Collins (and undoubtedly Takami) were influenced by Greek mythology and Roman gladiators. And if you happen to write a book that complements a bestseller nicely, you never know; maybe yours is the one those readers will pick up after they finish.

Worry about writing the best story you possibly can and making that story your own. Let others decide whether or not it’s too similar to be marketable, because you never know if it is until you’ve written it.