This article is about the variety of ways any writer can use to prevent themselves accidentally becoming a ‘copycat’.
To start with, it is important to note that copying from others is different from using the general idea. In fantasy, especially, most ideas have been done, but not every idea has been done in every way. These ideas are sometimes referred to as ‘genre property’ and include the concepts such as magical schools (Unseen Academy, Hogwarts), apprentices (Magician, The Magician’s Apprentice) and trolls, wizards, and pretty much everything else associated with fantasy.
To stop yourself from becoming just another copy that isn’t quite as good as the original, you have to become the original. You need to come up with something unique, clever, and new. I’m not going to lie and say this is easy, it isn’t – especially if you’re writing something like epic fantasy with dragons and knights. The way you go about creating something different will vary depending on the sub-genre, but there is one basic rule for all sub-genres.
Think. Now, this may seem to be the obvious thing to do, but it is surprising how often it is not done. If you know your story is going to be about a man who’s been an orphan since childhood but is going to learn more about his parents’ death through means of magic then you have a good start. By knowing what your plot is, it is much easier to make a few changes.
Let’s think about the first part of that plot; this man is an orphan. That’s definitely been done before, but comes under genre property. The unique part here has got to be how he became an orphan and how it has affected him. You would be copying if you had a dark wizard kill them and this caused you’re character to be the chosen one who is the only one who can kill this dark wizard. Perhaps making it an accident that killed the parents, but an unknown one. This helps with the second plot element and enhances the first one.
So, your character is going to find out about the death of his parents. This is more generic and so safer from you accidentally copying someone else. From the first plot element, you have created a unique death… or perhaps a unique known death. Maybe they’re not dead. If so, why did people think they were? Be adventurous here. Don’t have characters think the father’s death was caused by them falling off a cliff and then have the dad come back and explain how he climbed down the cliff face and had rocks thrown at him by an assailant but luckily he managed to escape. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has already done this. If you want to do something similar then perhaps have it be more dangerous, or maybe have somebody else save the character.
As you can see, there are a number of ways to stop yourself from copying and still have the same plot as you wanted. However, there is the issue of knowing what has been written. It is impossible to read everything and so you must do your research. If your plot is good and you haven’t read it before then a quick search on the internet is all that’s needed to make sure you are being original. Use Google to look for keywords from your plot. Using our previous plot example typing, ‘fantasy orphan magic dark wizard’ into Google had Harry Potter as the second result.
Of course, what I have explained is only the tip of the iceberg. To explain all the ideas under the sun would require forever and a day. Let your imagination flow from your pen and by thinking outside the box, you can prevent copying becoming a spanner in the works.
That paragraph beautifully flows to the other method of being unique. This is the one I employ most: Embrace the Cliché. That, however, is one for another day, and another newsletter article.
So, I leave you with this quote from Terry Pratchett.
Most modern fantasy just rearranges the furniture in Tolkien’s attic.
Hope this helps,Matt B
Also available at Be Younique (WDC)