*I don’t normally spell ’cause’ with a ‘z’, it was a typo

I had a rather adult (read: not at all adult) conversation with my beta reader/real life friend about my novel. I’m kind of a huge nerd. And I’m not saying that to be cutesy. I spent most of my tween and teenage years watching anime, I went to conventions and did dress up in costume (twice), and I know more Japanese than French. And if you’re Canadian you know that’s a big deal because the educational system has been trying to push French down my throat for years. ANYHOW, when writing my novel as a little ‘wut wut’ to my nerd side I used a well (like a water well) as the portal between worlds because Inuyasha was the first anime I ever watched in its native language.

So this conversation got me to thinking, how alike can one story be to another before you start to feel like an author maybe was a little ‘too’ inspired by another?

Most recently, there was some controversy over the similarities between Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen and Pierce Brown’s Red Rising. I have not read Red Rising, but according to GoodReads commenters the similarities were:

  • Both have a faction of society referred to as Reds
  • The other faction in Red Rising are called Golds, eerily similar in metallic qualities to Red Queen’s Silvers
  • The Reds are oppressed and the Golds/Silvers are high class and privileged
  • Darrow, the MC of Red Rising, pretends to be a Gold, not unlike how Mare, the MC of Red Queen, pretends to be a Silver

Obviously, the feeling of some that Red Queen is too similar hasn’t affected its sales or popularity. But now there’s a chunk of people who feel that this author may have done a bit of copying in terms of concept at least.

When you pitch a book you want to say that it’s The Hunger Games meets Bridget Jones’s diary, or Go Ask Alice meets 1984 because that’s how you get the audience from those books to go and read your book. But if your heroine by the luck of the draw takes her sister’s place at her new internship (where interns fight to the death to get full time employment) is that too similar? Or is it only copying if the herione’s name is Kate and the love interest is Peter? Or can no one ever write a battle royale type novel without being accused of copying Suzanne Colins? After all, even she got accused of ripping of Battle Royale, and the literal only similarity was that there was a fight to the death between multiple peeople. Oh, and there were teenagers. I stand corrected, two similarities.

So how alike can one story be to another before they’re copying or ripping off their predecessor? Or is it like YA cliches, it doesn’t matter how many they use as long as the story around it is unique and good? Or is there something inherently icky in seeing a book gain success when it’s clearly borrowed heavily from someone else’s idea?

A good book is a good book, period. But I lose my head when a book I loved does alright, and then another book comes along—with the exact same premise—and blows the market out of the water. But if they borrowed someone’s concept and made it better, on top of adding their own ideas, is that alright? Did they still rip it off? OR and this is a radical idea, are you of the general feelings that more often than not it’s just a case of two people coming up with the same concept purely by chance?

What’s your stance? How similar can do books be before you feel like one is copying the other?

Does it bother you? Or do you think that whoever had the best presentation is important, regardless of who had the idea ‘first’?

Let’s discuss! I would love to hear from you!