The Man Who Knew Too Much (about his genre)

I am reasonably well-read in both non-fiction and fiction. Usually that seems like a resource, as I have broad general knowledge and the ability to research when I need depth.

I started writing "The Surprising Life and Death of Diggory Franklin" with good awareness of most sci-fi time travel tropes and thought I was avoiding most of them by staying rooted in the character and avoiding paradoxes.

However, I just watched the first episode of the "new" Doctor Who show that restarted around 2002 (?) - I watched the older ones sometimes as a kid but they're vague memories. The Time Lords of Who show up at historical events like the JFK assassination, which is similar to what my characters do, unintentionally.

I was avoiding watching the show for that very reason and now I regret checking it out. Does anyone ever deliberately watch / read / avoid something in their genre to prevent derivative despair?

At this point, no. At one point in time I did, because I was afraid I'd read something I really liked and find myself unconsciously aping it in anything I wrote... but that's a shortcut to making yourself miserable as both a reader and a writer.

I take solace in Shakespeare. He and his peers all wrote the same plays, essentially. Each put their own mark on the various stories, but apparently there was also a Marlowe play that was very Romeo and Julietish. And the history plays were all adaptations of Holinshed's histories. Heck, in ancient Greece Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides all wrote their own versions of the Orestia.[1]

The rigidity surrounding how unique a story has to be in order to be considered one's own work is relatively modern, and I think it does a disservice to storytelling. What is absolutely important is that you put your own mark on a story--but at the same time, delving into commonly used story devices and putting your own mark on them, or even taking a device someone else came up with and exploring how it might be used from a different angle, can be just as provoking and absorbing and fundamentally good.


[1]Well, more accurately, of the stories that make up the Orestia. The Orestia was Aeschylus' name of the cycle of plays.

The "there are only a certain amount of stories in existence" thing does sound kinda depressing at times, but it's broadly true, and probably also applies to genre tropes. Yes, watch yourself for genuine subconscious plagiarism, but if you stamp on an idea every time it vaguely resembles an existing one, you'll never get anything done.

I'm not well read in time travel fiction (though I have seen all of the 21st century Doctor Who series), but I can't imagine the Doctor is the first time-travelling protagonist to visit major historical events. If your character is also a lonely alien wanderer with a human (often female) companion, then maybe tweak a bit, but it's only when it gets that specific.

No aliens.

Don't worry about it. A classroom of artists can paint the same model, and each one will be different. It's the writer that makes the story, not the subject

I think it can't be avoided.

Somewhere, sometime, I ~must~ have seen the opening of Deep Impact because I inadvertedly wrote an entire chapter of Bastion that was a complete knock off of the "the one guy who knows dies" trope from that movie without realizing it until a beta reader told me. That particular chapter is STILL in the bin waiting for me to see if I can salvage it.

I didn't mean to, I barely even remember the movie but either it was the dumb luck of parallel development or I just happened to stumble into forgotten memories.

I'm not sure I could have avoided that one if I had tried....

I usually embrace it because I'm like "Yes!! There's an audience for this!!" :P


I think I went the opposite direction with regards to Legion of Nothing.

I hadn't followed comics seriously in years, arguably not ever. Most of my comics reading was the result of friends saying, "You've got to read this," and shoving books in my hands. Fortunately my friends had fairly good taste, and thus I ended up reading X-men during the Chris Claremont years, and read much of Sandman as it appeared in stores.

That said, a lot of my comic reading ended when a lot of my friends moved on from graduate school and into work in other cities.

Since starting Legion, I started following comics blogs, and a few series.

My attitude is basically that being as widely read as I can be gives me more options. I'm not too worried about being affected by what I'm reading or discovering that I'm doing something similar to someone else.

I tend to think that pretty much anything I do has probably been done before in some way, but the more stuff I put into the hopper, the more possible ways I might combine things. My hope is that the combination at least will be new, and more importantly that it will be both unexpected and feel right to readers.

I like casander's point about painting, that was apt. I appreciate everyone's point of view on this.

I feel that this is less a problem you avoid by -not- reading as many stories as you can, but a problem you embrace by taking in as much media as possible. Jim touches on a lot of reasons why, but... I think the base reason, the reason beneath it all (as far as I'm concerned) is that I wouldn't want to live in fear, avoiding media of a sort I love because of that agonizing moment where I find my plot in another work.

"I have stolen ideas from every book I have ever read," said Philip Pullman.

"Bad writers borrow, good writers steal," said no TS Elliot ever, though he did say "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different," which is rather similar.

I can't imagine NOT reading something through fear of it maybe influencing you. That just ... makes no sense? If something inspires you, that's a GOOD THING. If you can't let it inspire you without it being a blatant copy, them that's just bad writing.

And speaking of Doctor Who: there's some blatant inspiration from 'The Time Traveller's Wife' going on in more recent series - and it's been openly acknowledged.

I dunno. I just find the whole concept baffling, frankly. The not-reading-through-fear-of-imitation, that is. Not Doctor Who.

I wouldn't call it "fear" on my part, exactly. I read a lot of science fiction growing up, with a fair share of time travel, and deliberately handled it differently. There's not THAT much similarity to my series and "Who" - I was just annoyed that there was ANY when I'd never watched it.

I just wondered if anyone ever worried about being derivative and how they dealt with it. Not a big deal - more a matter of a hyperbolic "derivative despair" comment on a bad day.

I like everyone's perspectives and it cheered me up.

Well... as an anecdote from my college years, when Avatar the Last Airbender first aired I avoided it like the plague because it reminded me so much of Reman Mythology on a very superficial level. Both were Asian/Manga-influenced, both were elemental stories... and that was enough to make me avoid it. It wasn't just me, either. A few friends and readers of the webcomic also avoided it for years! WTF was wrong with us, that cartoon is amazing and wonderful!

I finally had to watch it because I drew a comic for Nick Magazine and man... I fell in love. It also gave me solace, because like I said above, it made me realize there was an audience for this type of material if done well. It gave me hope for my own work, which is NOTHING like Avatar at all.

So you know, it's like with any fear. Once you face it, it's not as bad as you thought it was and you might even end up loving it.

I don't tend to avoid fiction similar to mine because I think I'll be influenced by it, but I might avoid it while I'm working on the project to prevent myself from drawing comparisons. It's a bit of fear on my part; I don't want to know if someone else has done something similar and done it better than I have. ;) Something like that will only suck enthusiasm out of the project for me. It's usually a fear I can get past, though, particularly now that I'm getting active feedback on my own work and more confidence.

On the other hand, if I'm in the formation stage of a project, I'll do active research on the areas I'm writing about or in. I like to be exposed to others' take on themes or aspects, partly to try to avoid replicating something that has already been done, and partly to see what pitfalls to avoid. It helps me shape my own, unique take on things. I don't tend to worry about being derivative or influenced; I delve into many different types of fiction, so no one thing hangs around in my consciousness long enough to take root.

Not sure if I qualify for the discussion, but I actively avoid Deadpool now, which is sad. I don't want to risk possible copycatting. There was also a time when I had something about a villain just starting up in a more-or-less real world setting that caused me to avoid some "Journal of a Supervillain" or something like that. Another aborted work on my end.

Of course, comedy being what it is, it can be better to address a story that's well known just so you can do the unexpected or take potshots at it. Like a comedian I saw once who was talking about New York. "The city so nice they named it...again!" Not a very good joke to recount in text, but it's played up in his act like it would be normally, then switched to "again" in almost a rude, mocking tone of voice. Without the well-known phrase, there was no joke.

I've even been in the position with Wildbow where various things I've thought of have shown up in WB's work. In line with what Casanders said, it's safe to say by now that tone and style differences would render them sufficiently different to avoid problems.

If you're feeling brave or depressed from more serious works, I'm at

I'd thought about the similarities between your Psycho Gecko character and Deadpool, and I can see why you might want to avoid his comics for a bit. That said, I think you'll be able to read it again after you feel a little more confident in the differences between the two characters.

One thing I remember about the start of Legion of Nothing is that it wasn't long after that that the Iron Man movie came out.

I've often been amused to have people compare "The Rocket" to Iron Man, but I was worried that they'd compare him to "The Rocketeer."

Weirdly, no one's compared him to the Rocketeer, but Iron Man comparisons are pretty common.

I always got a Rocketeer vibe from it, but I thought that's what you were going for considering he started as a WWII hero.

It's definitely what I was going for.

Legion of Nothing exists almost entirely because I loved the film and comic book version of the Rocketeer, and wanted to do something with a similar feel while doing something original.

Yeah, I always compared him more to the rocketeer when seeing the links and images around. (I am embarrassed to admit that I finally got around to actually READING LoN a couple of weeks ago. ) Having read it, it feels nothing like either. Honestly, it feels more like Verne, in terms of inventing and building and puttering being such a big part of the story.

Characters definitely make a big difference in what a story feels like.

Cliff Secord, the main character of The Rocketeer is a pilot who finds the jet pack that gives him his name. He's also impulsive and tends to act without thinking. Tony Stark is a bit of a ladies man, has a massive amount of self-confidence, and is also a brilliant inventor.

Nick, while brilliant like Stark, is also cautious, thoughtful, not so very confident, and inherits his powered armor from his grandfather. That would result in a different feel.

I hadn't compared it to Verne myself, but I can see that a little. I've certainly read much more science fiction than I have comic books, so if things have more of a science fiction feel than you might expect (Verne being one of SF's literary ancestors), that's probably why.