New Book Topics
Creating something new has always been difficult. One could argue that as a species, we have more knowledge and better access to information. Therefore, our expanded knowledge base makes it easier to develop new ideas. This certainly makes sense, but there is another side of the information coin.
Let’s pretend the year is 1970, and an author wrote a book set on the small island of Palau. What are the people like? Authors who never traveled to Palau would make many assumptions. If a 1970s reader wanted to learn about the subject of Palau, they had limited options. This includes encyclopedias, travel or local libraries. As such, the 1970s author could make up anything about Palau without consequence. The literary community would likely embrace the error-infested. It’s unlikely that the people of Palau would be aware of a new book unless the local paper contained an article.
Today, making up facts rapidly gets authors into trouble. Internet searches easily reveal detailed information and people are better educated. As a result, the small island of Palau is no longer an obscure topic. It stands out as an information powerhouse full of internet-savvy inhabitants. The local people would instantly become aware of any works about their community and take great offense at being misrepresented. Readers would leave negative reviews because they would be aware of the misrepresentation. The people of Palau might even start a negative online campaign.
To make matters worse, many topics are off-limits. Let’s write a story about a boy learning magic. He goes to magic school… Stop. That topic is clearly a Harry Potter rip off. How about a non-human character on a distant planet who learns magic? Nope. A magic school in the distant past? Nope. What if an author goes far out of my way to make sure the magic school has no similarities to any of the Harry Potter stories? Readers, critics, retailers and juries would fail to see the difference. The entire subject of magic education has become property of the Harry Potter universe. Now, all writers must take great care to distance their topics far away from anything Potter.
What if I want to be a rebel? Harvey Pots goes to magic school. I am such a great author that nobody will dare challenge me! This choice would doom even the most famous author. At worst, an author could get banned from online sales or get into a lawsuit.
What if an author made a mistake? They get a few Palau facts wrong and are unaware of Harry Potter? Critics, readers, and Amazon lawyers have no heart. It is the job of a writer to be aware of all existing works and ruthlessly check facts. If you recall from my blog titled, Bills Guide to Writing a Book, it is important to check all topics before starting a book outline. This means researching all preexisting works and uncovering all relevant facts.
In my first book, I wrote a story near a popular topic. The book, Misery by Steven King is about an author forced by a crazy fan to alter his story. My book is about an author forced to interview an immortal woman. I have never read the book, Misery or watched the movie, but I am aware of the basic plot. As such, I took great efforts to distance my plot. However, I understood the risk and I get comments like, “This story is similar to Misery.” Did I make a mistake? Only time will tell.
The reality of creating a unique work is depressing. So many topics have been covered, and it’s difficult to come up with something new. I wish that I had the freedom to make up facts, create a new Star Wars movie and write all about a boy learning magic. I also wish I could visit distant worlds to get “new” ideas. For now, I will have to use my imagination (with great care.)
You’re the best -Bill
January 22, 2020
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