Friday, June 17, 2016

Hope, Doubt, and Accidental Plagiarism

Aristotle describes tension as doubt as to outcome.

While Poetics reads exactly like it is what it is—a scientist’s attempt to dissect a story into little bits of universal truth—this statement has always rung true for me. Most times it’s about how doubt isn’t the same as just waiting around for information to be revealed, that doubt—and therefore tension—requires some prediction, a few possible outcomes for it to really exist. The important part is that tension will not exist if you have no idea what may happen next, but rather have some idea and doubt it.

Moreover, you have some possible outcome that you’re hoping for, but aren’t sure if it will ever come to pass.

As I’ve been trudging through the television series, Supernatural, I’ve been asking myself why I’m not as excited about it as some other people, why it doesn’t do it for me. As I’ve said, I always assumed I would like it, but kind of avoided it because it seemed a little derivative and could be a huge disappointment.

Excuse my hypocrisy. When I first started writing Storiesof the Wyrd back in 2010 (then known as Silver Diggers) I wasn’t too focused on writing a new dynamic of supernatural fighters. I had already learned my lesson with fixating too much on originality instead of writing what I actually wanted to be doing. As long as I wasn’t stealing ideas, ruining other people’s hard work, boring people with expected decisions, as long as my stories did something for people that was hard to find—combining old elements until they made something new, exploring an idea in a new way—I would consider it a success.

I knew as I wrote it that the idea of two people chasing down and saving their fellow humans from supernatural beings wasn’t much of a concept itself. I considered it sort of a
background premise: a setting and motive I wanted to write about, but that would, at some point in the development, have more to it.

I started writing down the ideas I had and tied them together into a story and rarely ever worried about the pitchability of it. That was for later drafts, and after I finished the first—or rather stopped some 30 pages from the end—I moved on to the next manuscript and almost left it abandoned.

It wasn’t until 2014 that I was considering creating some sort of free examples of my writing. As I focused on my career more and more, I started to develop my online presence and the frequency of questions about where people could find my fiction increased. I had short stories available in a few literary journals, but many of them were different than the style of storytelling I consider my concentration.

Combined with other factors, I decided to take the characters from my old manuscript and rewrite them as a serial.

The characters, a brother and sister, travel a secondary world in search of monsters, offering protection to anyone who needs it.

Of course, unlike most heroes of their kind, they ask for money, make things up, and at least Kaia is far more interested in learning about the other realm of the Wyrd.

Truth is, even though I considered Supernatural a fairly unnew idea, so do I consider Stories of the Wyrd. In both cases, I didn’t exactly think it mattered. While I avoided watching the series, it was more so because I don’t like change, I wanted Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and it’s always hard for me to trust anything, especially a new show. Usually, after I commit to something, I fall head over heels, especially something that was popular. Not to mention that I tend to shy away from popular things worse than a teenager in eyeliner, and it always takes me a while to try it out.

I expected to like it when I finally started watching it, and it’s not terrible. I have gotten six seasons in now and it hasn’t been too much of a slog. I haven’t stopped, anyway, though I usually try to finish something once I start it. Probably part of the commitment issues.

There is something about it that I can’t put my finger on, something that Buffy or Charmed or Lost Girl or any of the other shows of a similar premise doesn’t have.

It might be the characters. Both Sam and Dean Winchester are so serious, and even with a few jokes by each here or there, they very much fit the stoic, angsty hot guy thing—both of them. Every time I do encounter a character I actually like, they usually end up dead, the show’s obsession with returning the status quo fairly annoying.

Which brings me to my point. Everyone dies. Everyone is hurting. Survivors are usually only that. They survived, but they lost a lot in the process. Things never end up better for all of the pain. It just gets worse and worse. Sam and Dean are both miserable with nothing to look forward to. They have no friends, no one they can trust, and even their bond to each other is afflicted with betrayal and secrets and isolation. There’s no love story—not any that you actually think will ever work out, will ever be long term. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. They’re never rewarded except to be given back what they’ve already lost. And only some of the time.

As I’m sitting here at the beginning of season six, there’s nothing that I hope will happen, nothing I’m looking forward to on their parts. Anything I do want for them, anyone I do hope will survive, I already know will die because, honestly, it would change things and that’s exactly what the writers don’t want, even if it’s exactly what would make me enjoy the show better.

The possibility of having things actually go wrong is an important part of tension, but you really want to successfully make me sit on the edge of my seat? I need to hope things might just go right.

But as I watched, there was one thing that made me wish I hadn’t picked up the show, and that had nothing to do with Supernatural’s quality.

In 2010 I had never seen a single episode. Up until around eight months ago, I could honestly claim that any similarities between Supernatural and Stories of the Wyrd was unknown to me. Would that mean I would really be able to stand my ground against anyone who noticed? Not necessarily, but it would fulfill my own morality.

But now I do know. And perhaps I could say that I realized that many important choices were comparable and decided not to do anything about it, but the truth is that’s not the only problem. Whenever I find myself in this situation, I always pretend that my readers have seen both the successful work and my own. I ask, does the existence of one taint the other?

In this case, I say the answer is yes.

The resemblances are superficial at best, and I feel logical in their choices.

Two siblings are taught this life by their father. The elder brother has daddy issues. The younger sibling is fascinated with studying and doesn’t remember their mother who died when they were little.

Mostly though, Rasmus started to become a little too similar to Dean for comfort.

It makes sense as to why. I never exactly wanted Rasmus to be a lady’s man, but he’s started to go in that direction because by far the majority of paranormal monsters are sex based, preying on men especially. It seems that women, in legends, are sexual victims period—more so the more resistant they are—but men are victims of their own stupidity.

When I first realized the parallels between their dynamic, it felt obvious as to why. It shouldn’t have been threatening to me being that they weren’t the most pivotal points or the most original ideas either. Yet, I never liked Rasmus toying with the hearts of women. I think the way you treat someone you are intimate with is a true sign of character. Not how you treat friends or enemies, not how you treat waiters, but how you treat the ones you want love, sex, or validation from—that’s who you really are. And to see him use women like I’ve been suggesting, well, it wasn’t something I could forgive easily.

I’m not going to change the published stories. I don’t believe in that really. I think freely altering events that have already been in the hands of readers ruins their sense of the reality of the world. Besides, I don’t think it’s necessary.

Rasmus’s tendency to love them and leave them doesn’t have to be a ploy on his part, him being fake, lying to them, or knowingly letting them act on misinformation. I can still play up the idea of “hell hath no fury” and the lure of the siren’s call without making him like Dean Winchester—love ‘m and leave ‘m in refusal to gain true intimacy.

Unintentional similarities with popular works happen. Every author has a story about a book halfway done when the concept is in the next bestseller, a screenplay that just about sold when an eerily familiar blockbuster hit. We’ve all walked into a bookstore and grabbed one book to find the summary the exact same as our outline.

It’s doubtful that we’ll ever find anything truly original, but we can always hope for the best.


So, I just got to the end of season seven.

Meet Charlie, the girl with the Dungeons and Dragons tattoo.

In case you haven't made the connection, meet Charley, the girl who runs the blog:

I'll let you decide who's copying whom.

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