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I usually get quite a lot of ideas for stories, but every time I want to develop them into a full fledged story, I get paranoid about how it might not be an original idea, and how it might be dismissed by people as a copy and not worth spending time on. Same thing happens with character names.

One solution to this would be to Google search the idea/terms, but then the further paranoia stems from this.

Do you guys feel like this when writing, or is it just me?

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Most stories are written again and again and again anyway. Countless swords got stuck in a stone. Just write. –  John Smithers Nov 24 '10 at 13:48

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If it's original to you, it's original enough. Even if someone else coincidentally made something similar, you will still have your own twist on it enough that it will be yours entirely.

This is different from inventions, where the first person to conceive it is the person who gets credit for it. In writing, so long as you're not out-and-out copying from someone else, you're good to go.

Stop worrying so much and just write. Everything anyone could ever write is a copy of something, somewhere, that's already written. Just enjoy yourself and write for you.

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No matter what idea you have, The Simpsons have already done it.

So take your idea and put your own voice behind it.

Think about Hollywood and especially it's summer blockbusters. They are all a rehash of the same basic premise, but with a different directorial eye.

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+1 for the Simpsons (and you're absolutely right, of course) –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 11 '11 at 7:33

It's hard to easily quantify how original something is. Everything has been done before in some way. Your goal is to bring a new voice to the table and have that voice be novel in some way. You don't have to create an entire new world, language, or species to make something original. Some of the most fascinating things I've written start with well worn ideas and insert interesting novel elements into them.

Start writing and go from there. If your feel your rehashing or doing something to similar to others works, change it. NEVER, copy someone else's work.

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It isn't just you.

Storytelling is an old art. (Anyone with a need to look that up could let us know just how old.) When you worry that your newest mind-blowing twist has been seen before, it's probably not for nothing. The same goes for themes and character traits. Even Grendel's mother can't be credited as the first character ever to lose her life in seeking revenge for her child.

If you feel that a plot-without-precedent is your most important story element, then go ahead and remain paranoid, remain vigilant, and be aware that you might never complete a thing until (if ever) you've hit upon what only you could've plotted. That parenthetical is not entirely cynical advice. A writer who encourages another writer to abandon the search for originality is doing no one a favor. You might very well achieve that perfect, original plot one day. Keep in mind, though, that even a popular plotter like Dan Brown wrote less than popular, less than unique plots when he began. And what lies behind his plots-- conspiracy, adventure, puzzles-- is not new.

On the other hand, when your compulsion to monitor newsfeeds makes you write faster every time an author’s new publication or, worse, real life begins to mirror what you’ve been planning; when you look over your shoulder because current events are catching up with the plot you built from nothing but imagination; when you have to get the story out there before “out there” beats you to it... well, that's the groundbreaking plot you seek. Maybe.

Because once you get it out, of course, tons of your readers will blog, “It was great and fresh. Reminds me exactly of that novel by...” Sigh.

In the end, how much we stress out toward the aim of blazing a trail is up to us. Throw out every piece you write the moment you begin to worry about it, if you want, but know that you aren't assured to ever complete a title; expect very little recognition for how fantastically original your work is. Or you can writer-up and work through the doubt. Readers don’t require fantastic originality. Readers require good stories.

(By the way: I think you can do it. When you do come up with that most original of plots, let everyone know. We'll be sure to imitate it for you.)

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We don't really know how old storytelling is. All we know is that it goes back farther than we have any records. –  David Thornley Nov 27 '10 at 15:30
    
I figured someone would feel a need to look it up, or at least to let us know something about the history. Thanks for filling me in, David. –  Dawn Dec 1 '10 at 3:44
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Great answer. Lots of wonderful bits. Three stand-outs for me are the "before 'out there' beats you to it", "Reminds me exactly of..." and "We'll be sure to imitate it for you". Kudos. :-D –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 11 '11 at 7:32
    
Thanks a lot, Jae. –  Dawn Jan 18 '11 at 11:08

Your idea isn't original, trust me. Don't worry about it. Just write it your way, trying to see the story from your own point of view.

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I don't trust you, at least on that bit, thank you very much. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 11 '11 at 7:40

"It isn't just you." +1!

Issac Asimov's collection "Gold" has an essay called "Originality." In the essay, Asimov says that his most original story was probably nightfall ... at least he thought it was, until 20-odd years later he read an old magazine he had read as a child ... and noticed the same plot line!

It happens.

On the other hand, the classic "rip off" of fantasy is Lord of the Rings was ripped off by the Sword of Shannara - consider this Wikipedia article. So if I were worried about something like that, the first thing I would do is to find two peers who were deep into the genre, maybe a third who was into "general" literature. Then I would ask /them/ to read the plot outline and express any concerns.

So why did Asimov get away with it and Terry Brooks got hammered?

One, Terry Brooks ripped off a /recent best seller/. Two, Terry Brooks ripped off the world /AND/ the plot. Three, Terry Brooks didn't really include any character development -- his characters were wooden. Four, Terry Brooks did not include any twists or real changes, whereas Asmimov did.

So you might borrow some elements from various stories. The problem is if you don't contribute anything original. To borrow one of my favorite lines from a co-worker about fantasy "Look, it's a fantasy novel man. You're going to have an enemy that needs to be defeated, so you have to find an object - a sword or something - to defeat him. But to find the sword you need to find the map, or find the old lady with the clue, or whatever. It's your classic 'quest', it's been done a million times. So why do you read it? CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT, man, that's the difference between a terrible fantasy novel and a good one. (I believe was talking about R.A. Salvatore, probably the icewind dale trilogy.)

For a lot more about originality, I'd highly recommend the essay "originality" from Asimov in his anthology "Gold." You can probably get it free from inter-library loan or on Amazon.

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As others have mentioned, you need not be overly worried about originality. It's all been done before.

The best way to know how original your ideas are is to be well-read, especially in the genre(s) you write in. Read voraciously. As an added bonus, lots of reading is almost guaranteed to help your writing, too!

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I worry more about using phrases and descriptions that I've read somewhere. They're not trite but I know I've seen them somewhere, describing some thing, and I am afraid I never made it up to begin with.

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I used to be the same way as you. Paranoid about having an "all-original" idea. But then I had to come to the realization that "nothing is original". It's all been done before, in one way or another. It isn't really a question of how original your work is, but rather of the way you present it. No one can tell the story the exact same way you can. Maybe your storytelling will be the one to touch readers that another storyteller couldn't because of their way of expressing this story. So, don't worry about having an idea that's similar to another book. Tell the story in the way only you can.

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