It’s true. Great ideas aren’t that uncommon, and it’s not infrequent that many people will approach the same great idea and take it in different directions. And that’s a good thing, as great ideas are like Legos: they can build on each other.
But, I think, there may also be a caveat to this wonderful exchange. In the marketplace of ideas and story seeds and plots, there can come a point in the life-cycle of a given idea that it becomes an “already-done”: where in the collective mind of the story-consuming public that idea has already had its fullest expression in a prior work of art or fiction, and any later work that starts from the same point is classified as a “copy-cat” work. Even if that later work adds something new, different, or substantive – something unexplored by prior works – if it starts from the point of an “already-done” idea, I suspect it may never gain a significant audience. Over time, the collective memory of the “already-done” may wane, but is the memory of the book and art-consuming public not a long one? I’m not sure.
To some extent, this question is the pervading problem of epic fantasy, in general. Every epic fantasy written in the last forty years lies in the shadow of Tolkien‘s “Lord of the Rings“, and incorporating any of the same ideas is considered cliché, passé, or even taboo. I have read many times that there is nothing – full stop – that you can do, say, or write about Elves, Dwarves, or Orcs (and to a lesser degree Wizards and Dark Lords) that will add anything new or original or interesting to the general fantasy framework Tolkien laid out.
It doesn’t matter whether that’s true or not. Enough influential voices within the halls of speculative fiction creatordom and fandom believe it to be true that we’ll get relatively few opportunities to test that hypothesis.
Which leads me to the subject of today’s poll. It is for the above-stated reasons that over the past few days I’ve become concerned about the future publication prospects of my most recently completed novelette, “PFTETD”.
Let me provide some context. Over the weekend while taking a break from homework I read an interesting article about the future of film adaptations of YA speculative fiction literature in the waking of the coming conclusion of the Harry Potter series and the Twilight series. It was an interesting article, and I enjoy staying abreast of developments in speculative fiction film and literature.
But I learned something that I did not know before. There is a YA book with themes and ideas strangely similar to those I used in “PFTETD”. But that’s as a starting point… this YA book takes them in a very different, more “Twilight”-like direction. Which is a very fine thing to do. In normal times both stories could coexist in the marketplace, using similar ideas as starting points to serve the differing needs of differing consumers (readers). But in the post-Harry Potter, post-Twilight era, this is one of several YA books that has been optioned for possible film development in the hopes of catching another bodacious wave.
And supposing this book and movie adaptation go forward, and supposing it makes a big splash? Where, then, does that leave “PFTETD”?
Admittedly, I’ve semi-trunked the novelette. It’s too long for almost every online story market. It’s a good story, but not quite great enough to break out against tales told by my undiscovered peers. And I lack the auctorial clout to make a dent in the venerable old print markets. It’s a story that could someday find a home in a story anthology… but I’ll need lots of time and lots of feedback if I’m ever to revise it sufficiently to make it even better. But if the central idea is an “already-done” by then… it could be dead in the water.
“Well,” said Dear Wife, as I told her this, “Couldn’t you self-publish it as an ebook?”
Oh my. Now what a can of worms we’ve opened. Couldn’t I? I suppose I could. Should I? That’s a question I’m unequipped to answer… I was planning on simply keeping it in the trunk for now, making it privately available to willing gamma readers (i.e. some few of you who have the time and inclination and contact me privately about the matter after I make it known that this is what I’m doing, if any such of you in fact exist) for potential feedback and eventual Story Revision Mark III to prepare for submission to anthologies as I discover them. But if that chance never comes, is it better to make it publicly available now, in some form or fashion, or to chalk it up to writing experience, swallow my pride, and move on?
What say you?
(When you’re done here, trot on back to my post and poll on writing journals; I got precious few responses to that poll, and I’d love to see more.)