I had a reader ask if I’ve ever read a book or review and thought “That writer stole my idea!” Or title, or family name, or whatever. The answer is…certainly.
I can’t recall specific incidents but I’ve opened up RT Book Reviews many times to discover the plot of my current WIP, or similar character and family names, or book titles listed among their reviews. I don’t have enough ego to believe anyone is actually imitating me, so I’m not flattered, just annoyed that I’ll have to change what I’m doing. <G>
It’s equally startling to call up the title of a book on Amazon and discover half a dozen of the same title by six different authors. I try to avoid that by checking Amazon before I title a book, but there’s no avoiding the collective unconscious. I’ve seen three books of the same title come out in a single month. Conspiracy theorists may decide editors write down the titles of proposals they’ve rejected and keep a file to use later, but if editor brains operate anything like mine, that title just stuck in their subconscious and came out at the proper moment.
I can go to the bookstore and find recent books by new authors using my old titles, which makes me feel old but doesn’t otherwise bother me. We can’t copyright titles. When I read a review that resembles my WIP, I’m annoyed because I prefer to think I’m original and don’t want anyone saying I stole their ideas. But always, if I buy the book and read it to be certain I’m not losing my originality, there is nothing remotely similar between the stories. Reviews are condensed to such basic genre tropes that after a while, it’s a testimony to the talents of the reviewers that they don’t all sound alike.
Writers have certainly sued other writers enough times to give anyone who plagiarizes nightmares. I know everyone has read about the big lawsuits where unknown writers have sued J.K. Rowlings and the author of DA VINCI CODE. In those cases, plagiarism wasn’t proved since all the plaintiffs had were similar character names and a vague idea. You can’t plagiarize ideas or character names.
I could blame these similarities of titles and concepts on Jung’s “collective unconscious.” http://www.timestar.org/collective.htm I don’t buy into the theory that archetypes are hereditary, but the appeal of the archetype does seem primeval if so many people are attracted to the same ones over centuries. But for the same archetypes to appear in mass market fiction at the same time speaks of a more immediate consciousness to me—the media. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the end of the Buffy TV series resulted in a torrent of vampire books hitting the market.
Has anyone else noticed the frequent similarities between book concepts, characters, etc? Do you think they’re directly related to the media? Or is art just imitating art?