If you’ve ever done any creative fiction writing in your life and attempted to sell an idea, you’ve likely dealt with at least one devastating realization that your idea has already been done. It’s during those moments when you might feel someone unknown literally hacked your brain after you were so sure you were the only one who thought of the concept. This can be especially bad when you realized you were working on an idea that hadn’t been done in movies or TV before, which is increasingly rare.
I’ve recently gone through this situation twice in just a year’s time. With two TV show outlines I was working on last year, I found out halfway into working on them that both ideas would soon become TV shows. While perhaps it’s a lesson in reading the industry trades more often to avoid creative collision, having a double whammy like that can be initially disconcerting. For the record, the first idea was about lottery winners (turned into the flop “Lucky 7” on ABC), and the second about people coming back to life (becoming the ABC hit “Resurrection”).
Call it what you will, I came to the conclusion that perhaps no idea is original anymore. Despite both of those concepts being previously scant on TV, the positive side is that it might have saved me on the lottery winner idea. Also, the details on my resurrection concept was slightly different, giving some new thought on whether such a thing can still be rescued in different form.
Are creative writers really hurting themselves by being discouraged after they find out a similar idea has already been done? It’s possible they are when you consider the reality of everything having been done before. William Shakespeare was in the fortunate position where he had few forebears who designed the plots points we all steal from today. And even he stole ideas from the Greeks and the playwrights who influenced him a generation or two earlier.
The basic backbone of every conceivable concept has already been thought of, and it’s only the important details that matter in the 21st century. Even if you manage to come up with an initial concept never tried before on television, you’ll find that you’re starting to use standard plot structure once you get into writing the details. You can see this already in “Resurrection” where it literally turns into a derivative, large-scale redemption tale, along with a little sci-fi thrown in.
What can you do to help repair yourself mentally after having these creative collisions? And do you still have ways to seek out something that perhaps hasn’t been done before?
Rescuing Your Creative Project
While I have new creative fiction projects to focus on now to avoid any thought of being derivative, I may eventually revisit both of those stories I mentioned above. Considering every bestselling book today is based on an idea done in different variations before, your best way to rescue a creative project is to just think of new ways to express the same idea. Any basic theme can be taken from a new perspective to a point where it doesn’t even resemble the initial concept. When you keep the backbone of the idea, changing the details can sometimes help you make those changes faster than you think without months of new work.
Nowadays, when making pitches for any creative project, executives are going to expect to hear that your project is a cross between one iconic TV show or another. Every TV series on now is a mash-up of what’s come before, with only the details enhanced for more daring to make them fit in with today’s sensibilities.
Regardless, should you still make a valiant effort to find a completely original idea? You obviously have to try, and setting aside time to study what’s been done before on TV and what hasn’t is worth the effort. Reading the TV industry trades regularly is also essential to make sure that a project you started isn’t already selected to go into production. In that regard, being halfway original today is now becoming a matter of careful timing.
Making plans on that timing is your best remedy as a deterrent to dealing with creative collision depression. It’s not much different than preparing for natural disasters, despite most of us not realizing how important the details are until the disaster actually happens.