Many aspiring authors are afraid of putting their ideas out there, in case their concepts might be stolen by others. I used to have this fear too, but eventually, the more I wrote, I realized that concepts in and of themselves can be familiar, and all we do is put our unique twists on them. If I wrote a vampire story, for example, it would probably look very different than something from Twilight. Mine would probably be more along the lines of a vampire who has dreadful allergies, or something, because I’m fascinated by the mundane within the fantastic.
|“Damned pollen–my eyes are so red I can’t see. And look at this rash!”
(photo from freeimages.com)
But even this concept, or idea, is welcome to be stolen from someone else. I don’t mind. Because, I learned something else even more important from reading Neil Gaiman’s The View From the Cheap Seats, something he said during his speech at the fortieth anniversary of the Nebula awards:
“The challenge now is to go forward and to keep going forward: to tell stories that have weight and meaning. It’s saying things that mean things, and using the literature of the imagination to do it.”
The full speech can be viewed here.
Neil Gaiman has always been a fountain of wisdom for me–probably why I was so excited to meet him in 2013. His quote reminds me that it doesn’t matter if I come up with a cool concept–if that idea doesn’t have some way to universally resonate with someone else, it probably won’t translate in the way I intend anyway. It’s all about the “why.” Why is this cool element so important for the story, and why does it affect my character?
In thinking about this, my vampire with allergies might get some traction. After all, it’s not about the allergies in and of themselves, but how people’s lives are affected by them. Are they not able to own cats, for example, even if they might really want one? Do they want to go for a walk during spring, but can’t? And how does it affect a person’s motivation and well-being to be constantly drowsy from allergy medication?
As authors, we don’t only convey ideas, but we create experiences for people. So the next time you’re afraid that your idea might be “stolen,” think about the universal concepts within that idea–have they been done before? Are they relatable to someone else besides you? And if not, where might you find the universality within your story?