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A lot of times I find myself making up a fantasy world and then later will engage in a famous fantasy series and realiz my idea is just the same as the much more famous one?

I don’t think I could possibly have copied seeing as I came up with the idea independently before ever reading or watching the series but it seems crazy and then I would come across as unoriginal.

For example, I came up with ideas of elemental clans that make up a fantasy world—only a couple of years later to realize that’s the plot of avatar the last airbender. And another trope is the targaryens with silver hair and purple eyes is similar to a character I independently made up too.

It just seems crazy. Does this happen to anyone else?

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
It happens to everyone. It's perfectly normal. I've got my theories for why it happens, but the breakdown is there are no new ideas. Break down a story, you are suddenly describing fifteen. What is unique, what is new, is you. That's what you bring to writing. Your voice, your mind, your insight, and the things you have to say. Don't fuss about whether your ideas seem too much like someone else's. They will. So do mine. The white-haired badass? Meet my FMC. Her eyes are ice blue, but yeah, I did it, too. Nobody's complained, maybe no one's noticed. :D

You're fine, hon. Just write. Worry about the fine print later.
Head over to Google and type in "How many plots are there?" and you'll get an answer that's probably single digits, ranging up to a maximum of 40 or so. The exact number of course doesn't matter. And it can even be wildly inaccurate. But even if we assume that the number is 10X the 40, then with 400 plots, and a million of so books published a year, you can see that on average each plot is published at least 2.500 times a year. And if there's only 10 plots, then that number goes up to 100.000 times...

Of course there are a lot of caveats there. After all, when are 2 plots the same? But the principle remains, there are no new stories out there. Everything has been done in one form or another. However, the magic is that, as A. E. Lowan mentions, they haven't been done by you. Which is all that matters. So stop worrying about what others have done and just tell the best story you can.
With what I’m writing at the moment I seemed to have fallen into writing a dark fairytale for my main character, with her storyline having parts of Little Red Riding Hood. This is a trope (if you like) that has been used and used and used, but to great effect. Hannah Witten’s For the Wolf is a great example of a modern fantasy that is inspired by the classic fairytale.

There’s nothing wrong with having an idea that happens to be similar to someone else’s, because as others say, there are no new ideas. The challenge is in making it your own, and if you have the aim of gaining a readership then it’s a good opportunity to speak to a modern audience by making it relevant and contemporary.

Usually if your line of thought is similar to others at this moment in time, then I think that speaks to the current zeitgeist more than anything.


Myth Weaver
It happens at all levels. One fellow I happened on almost had a screenplay sold, he was flown to H'Wood, wined and dined, and then Variety announced a movie in production too similar to his... H'Wood turned to crickets, heh heh. It was like he never existed.

Are you unoriginal because you have lungs? Unoriginal because you are comprised of atoms? Arguably yes, arguably no. It all depends on the level of detail you're looking at. Sadly, some folks focus on the superficial.


Fiery Keeper of the Hat
It depends. There's a lot of cliche copycat stories. That's hard to deny.

But your story isn't about one element of your concept taken in isolation. Elemental clans were a thing long before the Last Airbender. In fact there are large groups of stories that just riff off each other constantly - and we call them genres.

So instead of one element, now take three. Say, elemental clans, plus a genesis ark, plus a murder thriller. While fleeing their fantasy world through a multidimensional magical rift, an air clan engineer on their ship's wings has been murdered. Follow a murder mystery with roots back into the destruction of their world and their secret plans for conquering the world that's offered to take them in. Suddenly it feels a lot fresher.

I mean, Airbender isn't just one thing. It's elemental countries, a hundred years of ongoing war, and a chosen one put together. Having a story that copies just one of those elements isn't much of an issue. And by the way, pitched in a basic elements form like that, those three things would not have felt at all original even when they were first pitched decades ago. It's actually some other things that made the show original - the handling of serious themes with a kids' style of humor, Zuko's redemption arc, the concise storytelling (for its time) with Sozin's comet working as an end date, and so on. The elemental clans is honestly just a small part of it.

So what does that mean for you? It means that when it comes to originality, worrying about "elemental clans" is to worry about one tiniest fraction of a massive picture that includes multiple story elements, your themes and structure and style, and a lot more.

I've said something like this before, but if you think of ideas as a dime a dozen, okay, but then also think of those dozen ideas as a booster pack for one of those deck building games. Your book takes dozens of them working together in just the right way. One idea element isn't where you're looking to be original. Your strategy for using them together is.


Myth Weaver
This does happen to me, and I do find it disappointing. Depending on the degree of similarity, I may even go change my stuff to separate from it.

Some stuff, I would expect. Clans based on elements would be something I would not think myself to only one to have come up with. But some stuff I dont see to often. What really gets me is when I have already developed a lot with the story, and Bam...I see it in someones elses stuff. Just makes me feel like I was too slow, which sometimes eats at me.

But what can you do? if I dig deep enough, I am sure I can find stories similar in many ways to my own.


I take it as a complement when an idea I came up with independently has huge success from someone else. Because now I know it was a good idea after all. Just stinks it already got out there first. And it is a bit frustrating working on a really good concept, only to find out it was already done in a very similar fashion.