...another writer. Really.
This hit home for me today as I was lunching with a friend who is also a writer. After sharing our adventures in parenting and everyday life, we moved on to shop talk: Current and future projects, industry successes and not-so-successes, personal goals and yes, challenges. I do not remember exactly what she said, but it prompted a dark confession from me:
I had finished, but not shopped a couple of manuscripts because they felt "too familiar" to me, as in: I feared I had written a stories similar to books I had read at some point in my past, though I could not recall titles, authors, or even when I might have read these other books though it would have been prior to the 1990s. I had even Googled premises and read dozens and dozens of back cover blurbs of similar era, similar set books to see if my fear was valid. To date it had not proved out, still I worried. She very kindly did not laugh aloud.
What she did do was reassure me that this is normal. I probably had read the books before—during the many phases of writing, revisions, and edits on my stories.
After reading some passages multiple times, and the manuscript in its entirety twice—or fifty times—it would begin to feel distinctly familiar, and that unless I had literally propped someone else's book in front of me from which to transcribe whole sentences and passages, I need not fear plagiarizing anything.
"There are limited tropes, limited inciting incidents, limited combinations of relationships"...When writing about people, you just might have a sister, cousin, mother, father, brother, or uncle, etc. acting as either compatriot or antagonist to a protagonist and doing similar stuff in similar locations as other novelists, but what matters is your voice and execution. In short: You can't worry about that stuff.
The Melania-Michelle fiasco is a prime example of how one should not copy someone else's stuff if one wants to be taken seriously. And I want to be taken seriously, hence my interest in clean writing, and heightened appreciation for good people who offer sage advice when it's needed.
Good writers, good people, offer support, and the occasional gentle knock-up-side-the-head when necessary (Thank you, Roxanne!). Not so good writers attempt to pass other writers' work off as their own. I am grateful to enjoy the company of the former and every time I sit at the computer to work I strive to earn my place among them, because at the end of the day, it is why I write: to tell my stories, not someone else's.
Great is the road I climb, but…the garland offered by an easier route is not worth the gathering. ~Propertius