Friday, May 29, 2009

Hey! That Was My Idea!

In the summer of 1995, a co-worker told me of an idea he had for a pre-lit Christmas tree. He only told me of the idea after I assured him that I wouldn’t repeat it. His plan was to go invent the thing. True to my word, I kept my silence, but a few years later, practically every artificial tree on the market was pre-lit. To my knowledge, my friend wasn’t responsible for any of them.

A few weeks ago, I was looking through some of the novels that are scheduled for release and I saw one that had the same premise as one I had seen earlier. The characters were different, the setting was different, but it was the same story, told by two separate authors.

Great minds think alike, or so the old saying claims. We come up with these ideas and then discover that someone else has been thinking along the same lines. Some people find this very upsetting. “That was my idea! He stole my idea!” But it might not be a case of someone stealing at all. It could be that we are all exposed to the same global knowledge, the same triggering events and other things. What we think of as a new idea is nothing more than a culmination of some of the things we have seen and experienced. Two people hear about the same event on the news and think, “What if it happened this way?” and they have the same idea.

At times, I think ideas are just ripe. Science fiction loves to look at what might have happened if this person or that person had died before they invented some device. What if Bell hadn’t invented the telephone? Someone else would have. The idea was ripe in his time, and he happened to be they one who plucked it.

In writing, a lot of our idea are ripe. Now it could be that we’ll write a story or a work of non-fiction and be the first out of the gate. If could be that we’ll write something and discover that we can’t sell it because someone else has already cornered the market. That’s just the way it goes. I recently bought a book call The Almost True Story of Ryan Fisher by Rob Stennett. The main reason I bought the book was because of the similarity to a story I had considered writing. I probably won’t write that story now. That’s just the way it goes.