Saturday, February 06, 2010

Dances with Wolves in the Future

By Keith Fisher

I took some advice and went to the movies last night. We saw Avatar and my daughter loved it. The 3 D was cool but it’s always difficult to see through the eye wear when you have prescription glasses.

With that said, I’ve got to admit I loved it. After Happy feet, I thought I’d hate watching movies with a political agenda, but this was good. It became obvious to me, however, that Avatar is basically, a remake of Dances with Wolves. That movie staring Kevin Costner, took us on an adventure where a lone army officer befriends the local Indians, learns their ways, and grows to love them.

Avatar is pretty much the same script, set in the future where a human, ex marine, learns the ways of the local people and literally becomes one of them. This time however, the locals win the war and kick the humans out. Also, if the story doesn’t leave you in tears, you’re not paying attention.

I left the theatre thinking about remakes. Nostalgia movies were big business in the early nineties. They even remake TV shows. Back in the eighties I watched a sitcom (I don’t remember which one). I recall, though, as soon as the episode began I knew what would happen from beginning to end. Not because the plot was hollow, but because I’d seen the same episode cast in another sitcom from an earlier time period.

As a writer I worry about developing a plot and finding out it was already done, or worse, being in the editing stages of a book, and I hear that a well known (published) author came out with one so similar, I could be accused of plagiarism.

You might think this is a little neurotic, and perhaps it is, but it does happen. I worked for the better part of two years on a book once, and the rejection said, the publisher already had a similar book, in house, in process.

If you were a publisher, and you had two similar stories with the same idea, who would you chose to publish? The well established author? Or would it be the untried writer? No matter how good the latter has written the story, the publisher is going to choose the writer with the track record.

That’s not to say that similar books are published close to the same time, in the same market, because they are. There’s even a pair of books on the market right now, with the same title. I haven’t read either one yet, but I don’t think they are the same premise.

We’ve all seen the same idea in two different books, at the same time. What happens, usually, is the second book gets accused of being a copy of the first, even though they were written about the same time. Also, critics judge the best, based on how it was written.

So, what do I do? How do I keep from wasting my time with a plot, only to discover someone else wrote it faster and got to market before me? Sadly, there is no way to prevent it, unless I write it quicker, but even that, won’t protect me from well-known authors with the same premise. Especially, if you take the inspiration factor into account.

What is the inspiration factor? Simply put, I believe there is a higher power who wants people to read certain themes, so He puts the idea into the heads of many writers at the same time, hoping, one of them will write the story and touch hearts.

There is hope, however. Sometimes a premise is so good, and so urgent, other publishers want to get on the bandwagon (pardon the cliché). Also, as in the case of Dances with Wolves, you could take the premise, write it better, with a different twist, and readers might like it more. Such is the case in the Cain and Able story. The Romeo/Juliet story, or even, Moby Dick. All those stories have been rewritten in different ways, many times.

I choose to write the great premise, and finish the book, because it gives me practice, and it proves to the “author of all great inspiration,” that I will listen. Then, when my writing is better, I will the one the publisher picks to tell the story.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.


ali said...

Ha! I hadn't even considered the similarities between Avatar and Dances with Wolves!

It's hard to stay committed to my work sometimes when a person tells me about yet another book *that's already out* sounds so much like mine that I'm trying to sell. Argh.

But, I just keep keepin' on, keepin' on. Sometimes after I've a good pout though ;)

L.T. Elliot said...

I suppose I see it this way, there might be two similar books with similar plotlines but only you can tell yours. Only yours with be said in your voice, with your life lessons, and with the honesty and soul that you bring to the table. It's just a matter of finding the right pair of eyes to see yours the way it's meant to be.

Tristi Pinkston said...

Working in acquisitions for a publishing company, I have to make this decision every day. There is one certain theme that is on everyone's minds right now and we've already contracted two authors who write different aspects of this theme. We simply can't take on another one. In this case, it's not a matter of choosing which author, but a matter of, who got here first? Timing is everything. The books we rejected were good, and I imagine they'll sell well for someone, but unfortunately, not for us. That's not something the author can ever determine. It's a leap of faith. Like you said, Keith, you keep writing it because you feel it's the thing you're supposed to do.