Sunday, 7 March 2010

MORE ON OTHER WRITERS GETTING THERE FIRST

To be honest, this is really an excuse for showing you this fabulous video, which I came across via Jonathan Pinnock's comment beneath my recent post about writers having the same / similar ideas and whether this matters.

Have a gander, and then I'll reveal why it's relevant.



Fab, eh?

And now, if you go here, you'll see why it was relevant to my recent post.

Done that? Wasn't it remarkably lucky that the domain name www.mrsdarcyvsthealiens.com was still available?? What were the chances of that? I really do think you should go and have a little read of the serialisation - it's great fun. I know Jonathan through Twitter but confess I'd never got round to reading the Mrs Darcy stuff because a) I'm not a Jane Austen fan, not even a little bit and b) I am not an alien /sci-fi fan. Shows how our preconceptions can work against us. What I learnt was that it doesn't matter what genre we're fans of: when the writing is right, nothing else matters.

Finally, while we're on coincidences AND the ubiquity of ideas, I have another story: while I was away on Friday, I got a lovely email from a crime writer who hadn't read my post about "someone getting there first", though I know he occasionally does read my blog. (He doesn't need to - he's very successful and needs no advice from me.) He told me that he'd been thinking for some time about writing something about Burke and Hare, and during his research he'd come across my novel, Fleshmarket. He then said some rather wonderful things about Fleshmarket but added that I'd now completely put him off writing the subject himself, because I'd "totally nailed it". I should probably suggest that he does read yesterday's blog post, because then he'd find out that no one has ever nailed anything - there's always another way.

Obviously, for writers there's a risk when we read things that have any chance of being too similar to what we're doing. Because if we haven't read something similar, we can be quite free with what we do. Anyone who writes about Edinburgh in the 19th century is likely to use much of the same detail, because how else other than with truth can we describe how things were? Thing is, we also have to read around our subject and see what other people have done, not only to make sure we do something different but to follow that rule: read widely in your genre. We have to know, even if the knowledge is sometimes painful.

So, all this problem of whether our idea is new or new enough or sufficiently "undone" is tricky, and has no simple answers, other than the use of common sense, integrity and artistic magic. I firmly believe that wide reading is essential for a writer, even if it reveals that someone does seem to have "got there first". That ugly moment is one that be overcome - a creative writer's brain will find a different way to do it. In fact, I emailed that crime writer back, told him he definitely should tackle Burke and Hare, that it would be very different from mine and that I would buy it. And from his response, I know he will. He wants to and he should. After all, Burke and Hare is not my story and many people have used it before. It just needs to filter through and merge with all the things in his creative mind that are different from what's in my mind, and he'll come up with something entirely his. And I can't wait to read it!

Meanwhile, to contradict all my hitherto reassuring advice, I am now in a state of terror because I have just had a high-concept idea for a high-concept series and this really is something that I think could only work once... If I discover that anyone else has done it or has the idea before I get my act together, there may be a whole lot of screaming.

11 comments:

Jesse Owen said...

Looks like something I can read right from the beginning :)

jonathan pinnock said...

Gosh. Wow. What can I say? Thank you so much for mentioning this, Nicola! I really am lost for words.

M. Gray said...

That trailer was awesome. I had to watch it twice!! Thanks for the link.

I hope your high concept idea pans out. I agree, we can always do things differently, but it really is nice if we think of something new. I'm pretty sure my high concept idea hasn't been used--that Aristotle's ethos, logos, and pathos, have become embodied in his descendants as super powers--and that morality (the Ethos line) is becoming more and more scarce--but I haven't read every book in the world so I can't be completely sure.

David Griffin said...

"Prithee thee fair Zog the Elder, why dost thou glow so?" ;-)

Mrs Darcy vs The Aliens sounds great fun; not my cup of tea but I can see that there's a market for it. In fact, I think this type of writing has even been given its own genre name? Can't remember what that is though!

More underlining of "not what you write, but how it's written" in this post though I hope you don't find anyone who's already produced your high-concept idea, Nicola. Fingers crossed for you!

P.S Without going back to check the Mrs Darcy vs The Aliens video, I'm sure that their French for "tosser" was "scrotúm antelope"...snigger!

Jo Treggiari said...

Loved the trailer! It made me laugh out loud which is significant because I am sick as a dog and miserable today.
Inspired to add the franglais!
"Chateaubriand aves frites!"
Thanks, I'm following jonathan now and reading the serial.

Jo Treggiari said...

On the topic of writers who get there first, I discovered shortly after my dystopian YA was bought by Scholastic ( pub date fall 2011) that the YA dystopian genre was over and done with. Finito. This according to big agent. It cast me into gloom. Tow rite a book from your heart and then only find out that it is a sub- genre but also an exhausted one is awful.
However my agent told me to snap out of it and Publisher's Weekly recently ran a big article on how it is the hottest genre in YA right now and pointed out that James Patterson has jumped on the bandwagon. I suppose the worst that may be said is that the wagon is somewhat more crowded that it was when I started writing, and I might have to sit next to Mr. Patterson.
I think that writers should have an eye to what is saturating the market, but the important thing is to find a fresh, unique way of telling your story.

dirtywhitecandy said...

I'm also a firm believer that you make an idea your own. After all, a novel takes so long to write and the ideas change so much along the way as they gradually draw together to make a coherent piece.

Like you I've got a high-concept idea jumping up and down in my brain with its hand up - and am in dread of someone else doing it first! I wish it didn't take so long to get from inspiration to final manuscript!

Nicola Morgan said...

Jo - re whether your genre / sub-genre is "in" at the moment: I am rapidly coming to the comclusion that any agent's opinion on this directly and exclusively reflects what the last publisher to reject a client's work said... These views seem to change so quickly and to contradict the views of others.

However, a commenter on the other post said something about putting something away in a drawer until the right moment returns - this is certainly sometimes the answer. Maybe trends don't matter: it's all about perceived trends.

dirtywhitecandy - likewise!!! I told a publisher that I had such an idea the other day (but I didn't say what it was) and she said, "Tell me, tell me!" but I haven't yet as I'm too scared she'll either say "Silly you - that's been done" or "Write it!"

Thomas Taylor said...

That trailer is so bad that yes, it does just scrape by as fab.

HelenMHunt said...

I loved the trailer and not just because it had Colin Firth in it.

I had a fantastic idea for a short story a while ago. I was quite convinced of its brilliance and uniqueness. I wrote the story really quickly and sent it off with my heart in my mouth in case someone else had come up with the same idea in the meantime and it would hit the fiction editor's desk before mine.

This story has a sad end. I still think the idea is unique, but sadly it obviously isn't very good as the story has now been rejected by every magazine out there. Sigh.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

This stuff is hilarious. Its wicked, and clever and sharp - and to date, no one else has done it with aliens...I'll rephrase that - Jon is the first to 'do' Austen plus aliens at the same time...

er. I think I shall just shut up now.