Possible Plagiarism: Another Story Just Like Mine

Underground cities. Walled villages. Fenced compounds. Even life underwater. Post-apocalyptic fiction has covered the bases.

It’s happened again.  Last week I opened a frantic e-mail from a fellow writer.  She’s been working on a novel for over 5 years.  Just as she’s taking it to final, another writing friend forwards her the description of an upcoming novel.  Sure, the summary is brief but it alarming similar to her own.

Not surprisingly, she was in a panic and even mentioned legal action.

My advice to her?  Take a deep breath.  Wait to read the published book and then see how similar the two truly are.

Not long after I started writing, another writer in my critique group ran a novel past all of us.  It was a post-apocalyptic tale in which people had taken shelter in an underground city.  It was amazing.  And then City of Ember came out.  There was no way on earth that Jeanne DuPrau had seen my friend’s summary or his manuscript but the similarities were there and they were strong.

What gives?

The reality is this — we all live on the same earth.  We are all being acted on by the same forces.  We all have very similar concerns.  Human brains work like human brains.  It’s how prehistoric people on each side of an ocean could invent remarkably similar types of pottery.  Nobody copied off anyone else but they both had access to similar materials.  Story works much the same way.

The world around us is an elaborate writing prompt.  Sometimes the stories that come about will be similar but more often than not your unique look at the world will shine through.