Thursday, 27 February 2014

The same but different enough?

When I started writing fiction my biggest worry (apart from never producing anything good enough to be published) was that I might accidentally copy another writer. I’d been an avid reader for years so, when the germ of a story popped into my head, how could I be sure it was my own original idea and not a memory of something I’d once seen in a book or magazine?

I lost count of the number of stories I abandoned after a few pages because they seemed too familiar.

     My love story had been written before – by Shakespeare!
     That clever murder mystery had been solved years earlier by Agatha Christie.
     And the autobiography of a horse? It was just an updated version of Black Beauty!

Even after I’d had a few things published I still had nightmares about being sued for plagiarism.

Then I came up with a solution. If I based at least a part of a story on something I had experienced or witnessed in the real world that would surely make it my story. Other people might have written about similar situations, but the unique details in my story would prove I hadn’t copied them.

And that was how The Dancer came to be written.

I remembered sitting in a packed village hall watching a show put on by the local dancing school. The audience was made up of friends and relatives of the performers and every turn was greeted with loud applause.

A group of young ballerinas took to the stage. They wore identical costumes and danced in perfect unison, but one girl was obviously different. She was short and dumpy, with rolls of fat clearly visible beneath the tight dance costume.

Someone behind me whispered, ‘Poor kid! You’d think her mother would do something about her, wouldn’t you?’

Part of me agreed. It wasn’t healthy for a child to be so overweight. But I was also annoyed that the whisperer hadn’t kept her opinion to herself. The thing I’d noticed most about the girl was the expression of pure joy on her face as she danced around the stage. She was clearly loving every moment and neither knew nor cared what she looked like.

But suppose she had heard the remark from the audience? How would she have felt? Would it have changed the course of her life?

That was where my imagination took over from the true story and the result – I was certain – was a completely new story.

The Dancer was accepted by Best magazine. When it was published a few months later I was able to read it with fresh eyes – and what I saw made me groan. Why hadn’t I recognised that I’d written a slightly different version of a very well-known fairytale? There was a moment of panic until I realised that the editor had thought my story original enough for her magazine. And who was I too argue?

And I’m very pleased to say it has now been published again as an ebook by Alfie Dog Fiction. Keeping my fingers crossed that nobody who reads it will want to sue me!

Do you think it is possible to tell a story that has never been told before?

(I wonder where Hans Christian Andersen got his idea from?)


Henry Mitchell said...

I doubt this helps me to be original; it's more of a superstition, but I avoid reading the same genre I'm writing in.

Linda D said...

Good tip, Henry. I've just finished reading The Summer Boy and it was certainly different from the things I'm writing - in a good way!
I'll post some reviews soon.

Anonymous said...

Everything is similar to something Linda, you're unique, keep writing.