John Lewis and Moshi the Monster have recently been all over the news, and not for a good reason. I haven’t had the pleasure of reading Chris Riddell’s, ‘Mr Underbed’ as yet, so I can’t comment on how similar the two are, although surely Mr Riddell has very good reason for believing there are significant similarities between the two. But it got me thinking – are there actually any original stories or are we all simply drawing from the same pool of ideas?
This concept is something I’ve heard before – especially for picture books- and certainly there are many authors who’ve discovered a story they wrote is unfortunately similar to something else. It’s easy to cry plagiarism, but more often than not it’s simply coincidental. Just this morning a friend of mine was lamenting over another Christmas advert that seems eerily similar to a picture book text she has recently been laboring over.
When I started my mentoring with Natascha Biebow of Blue Elephant Storyshaping, one of the first things she said was what I thought was one of my ‘stronger’ stories had already been ‘done’ several times – and in much better ways! Another story – which has caught the eye of a few people in the industry – we discovered FOUR published books of a similar idea with almost identical titles! (And Natascha has since flagged a fifth one to me – d’oh!) A third story, an agent pointed out a self-published book on Amazon which has exactly the same title. I was honestly not aware of any of these stories when I wrote my own.
Obviously the first reaction to these revelations was to cry! But Natascha told me similarity isn’t necessarily a problem – the trick is to make sure your story has enough of a point of difference to make it unique enough. Because we ARE all drawing from the same pool of ideas! How many picture books have you read that are about sharing, or being yourself? How many about the unexpected visitor who causes havoc, the animal who uses wit and wiles to save themself or their babies from a hungry predator, or even the monster who lives under the bed? Happily once I actually looked into these other stories, I was satisfied that although the titles were similar and the core idea was kind of the same, my own stories DO have a point of difference, and in some cases aren’t the same at all.
What can you do if you suspect someone has stolen your idea? I believe its a hard one to prove. Take the case of author Dan Brown and his court battle with the writers of ‘Holy Blood, Holy Grail,’ Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln. I have read both books, and I was very surprised the court ruled in Mr Brown’s favour. One thing you can try when you have a new idea is to do an internet search to see if there is anything similar out there already. If you’ve unfortunately discovered there is – what can you change to make your story different?
At the end of the day, there are millions of people in this world. They say we all have a doppelgänger somewhere, so its not unlikely someone else might have had the same bright idea as you. Try your best to be original, and don’t deliberately lift ideas from someone else is my advice!