My current offering is this book here, WRITING IS ACTING. It's certainly not an original idea. I've heard people connect the two professions now and then, and some how-to books already touch on the subject.
But I made a whole writing system out of it. I developed the concept in a way that hadn't been developed before. I had something new to say.
Plus, nobody had used the title yet, so woo-hoo for me! (BTW, to purchase a copy, go to HOME PAGE or visit writingisacting.com.)
BLOG #2 THE WRITERS' GESTALT:
How Original Are Your Ideas?
Bobbi JG Weiss 1/1/14
There’s a “writers’ gestalt” out there, a sort of psychic connection between creative writers. Don’t ask me how it works because I don’t know. I just know it’s there. And when you plug into it, whether on purpose or by accident, you get silently bombarded by the vibes of everyone else who weaves stories for fun and/or profit.
No, I am not making this up. I swear it’s the truth. Of course, I can’t prove it. It’s just something that I’ve experienced many times during my writing career. I believe it is a phenomenon created by current events, social trends, economics, technology and, in general, the human condition of any given period of time. When you have a lot of people trying to come up with creative ideas, and these people all exist within the same set of world circumstances, it’s only logical that some of them will come up with the same ideas at the same time. Creative ideas can’t help but reflect the reality of their times. So as writers, at some point or another, we’re going to think of an “original idea” that somebody somewhere out there is thinking up, too. After that, success is measured by who gets the idea out there first and/or who gets it out there best.
It’s a tricky situation, and it plagues writers everywhere. So what can we do about it? Well, let’s examine it first.
I believe there are two levels at which the writers’ gestalt operates. The simpler level exists within the realm of episodic storytelling and involves TV and movie writers, magazine writers, bloggers, and heck, even fan fic writers. In these instances, each writer has the same parameters to work with: the same magazine or blog theme, the same set of TV characters with fixed parameters of interaction, the same genre, or what have you. It’s not surprising that these writers often duplicate each other. It’s no one’s fault. It’s just a matter of odds.
Personal example: Back in the 1990’s there was a TV series called Dinosaurs about… well, dinosaurs. It was a comedy that featured muppet dinos created by Jim Henson’s people, and it was truly weird. My husband/partner David and I studied the show, wrote a spec script, sent it in, one of the producers read it, and in a subsequent phone call this producer said we had nailed the show and it would make an excellent episode — in fact, they were already making it. Yup, we had come up with the same story that was already scheduled.
As you can guess, I was both ecstatic at this news and really ticked off. Yay, we nailed the show! Yay, the producer praised us! Boo, no sale. But after I thought about it, I realized that our idea was, frankly, obvious. It was a natural outgrowth of the characters and how they interacted within the show. We had merely done what is expected of good episodic writers — we had identified that obvious idea and developed it with a unique flair. It’s just unfortunate that we didn’t develop it first.
Anyway, this annoying situation has happened to me many times. I hate it, but I’m used to it. And despite how indignant it can make me feel, it’s rarely a matter of stealing. It’s usually just a matter of timing. Within the parameters of a TV show or magazine or blog or fan fic, how many ideas are doable, anyway? And no, don’t say ideas are limitless. They are not. Ideas are limited by all kinds of things — you have to feature the star actor, or you must pander to an editor’s tastes, or you can’t use complicated concepts if you’re writing for children, etc. etc. etc..
The second level at which the writers’ gestalt operates affects a much wider range of creativity — the realm of popular trends in entertainment. I’m talking about the big trends, like zombies and vampires, or dystopia stories, or ghost hunter series. I’m not concerned with how these big trends get started, though. My aim here is to soothe those of you who tap into those trends and think up “original ideas” that you then suddenly find aren’t so original as you thought.
We’ve all done it — or if you haven’t yet, you will if you keep writing. It’s inevitable. It’s also not the end of the world. Let me give you a couple of personal examples.
Example #1: I’ve had a big fat fantasy trilogy in the works for more than 15 years now. It’s been one of my “back burner” projects. Anyway, back when I was doing a lot of tie-in novels for Simon & Schuster, I asked my editor if she might consider an original YA novel from me about magic and fairies. She replied that fairies could never be popular to anyone but little kids. I maintained that wasn’t true.* I told her I felt a trend coming. She didn’t agree with me. I ended up to be correct. Not only that, but my trilogy centered around a conflict between purebloods versus mixed bloods.
When Harry Potter came out, I just about had a fit. **
Example #2: I’m a big anime fan. In the mid-1990’s, I felt that Japanese anime was going to take the children's novel market by storm in America. We just needed that first book to pave the way. So I wrote a proposal for an anime-style comedy chapter book series and sent it to one of my editors at Scholastic. She loved it. She said it was a great idea and one of the best proposals she had ever read (honest, those were her words). But she told me that the book market wasn’t ready for anime-style stories. They were too extreme and goofy, as was my story. It was rejected.
Not long after that, anime books were all over the shelves.
I could go on with more examples. I mean, this kind of thing has happened to me so many times, and each time it’s devastating. I mean, here I am, working up plots, falling in love with characters, working hard hard hard, and I’m completely derailed by finicky trends that come and go like leaves in the wind.
Well, I encourage you to brace yourself for similar experiences. If you write, you will, at some point, end up writing a story that’s already been written. You might be doing it now. If so, just remember that there really is no such thing as an “original idea.” Every story has been told already. What we writers need to do is make our telling unique. An old story becomes fresh when told in a unique narrative voice using unique characters and new settings. Since every writer is unique, that makes the playing field level. More or less.
Oh by the way, you may be asking yourself why I didn’t keep on submitting the books I’ve mentioned so that at least I could publish during the trends. Well, in several cases I simply couldn’t finish the darned things in time. I got very busy with writing tie-in products that paid my mortgage. (Reality sucks, doesn’t it?) But I never tossed those projects away. Heck no! I’m working now to finish them, and I have new ideas, too. Might some other writer feel the spark of my ideas through the writers’ gestalt and come up with their own “original” version before I’m done with mine? I don’t care! I’m going to write mine!
In fact, I’d like to end this blog with one last example of my experiences with this pesky writers’ gestalt thing. In a few months my newest novel will be available. It’s called HOOKED, and it involves a trend that is currently quite popular. I don’t yet wish to say which trend, but yup, it’s yet another trend I felt coming many years ago. I just couldn’t get HOOKED done in time to be at the front of it. Is this going to stop me from self-publishing HOOKED now that it’s finally finished? Heck no! HOOKED is a damned fine novel, if I do say so myself. I can only hope that you, fellow writers and readers, will agree that a good story is a good story no matter when it’s published.
Bottom line: have faith in your ideas. Write what you want to write. If it’s good, it will find its audience, perhaps right away or perhaps over time. We can’t control that. But we can control our own creativity, and don’t ever let anyone tell you differently. Just do your best. In the words of Commander Peter Quincy Taggert in the movie Galaxy Quest: “Never give up! Never surrender!”
* At this point in publishing history, “The Lord of the Rings” was considered a fluke. Swear to dog!
** But I still adore the series. Hey, who can argue with brilliance?