Author : Sandra Leviton
Dear Script Chick,
In my writing group this week we were sharing ideas for our next scripts we want to write and someone in my group has a very similar idea to mine. I really love the idea and don’t want to scrap it, but I don’t want to write the same story as someone else. Should I go ahead and write it or change it all together?
There’s an age old saying there are really only six original stories and everything else is just variations on those six. While there’s some debate on exactly how many (some sources say twelve and others say thirty-six), there’s truth to it. There is a finite number of plotlines and millions of stories have been committed to paper and film. It’s inevitable that many of them are bound to be similar.
What makes them different and stand apart from the crowd is the execution.
Let’s take an example of two films that have essentially the same exact plot line and released in the same year – “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact.” In both films, the key plot line consists of an asteroid hurtling towards Earth, and the only way they can save the planet is by blowing it up with a select few people martyring themselves for the greater good. What makes the two different, and ultimately made one significantly more successful financially and culturally, is their execution.
“Armageddon” employs a team of oil drillers to save the planet. The producers cast international action stars like Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck and had Aerosmith compose a ballad to give the heroes a huge welcome home while conveying the loss of their altruistic leader. Story wise, “Armageddon” has the relatability factor – everyday Joes saving the planet. This allows the viewer to walk away thinking that maybe one day they could save the world with their hard work and skills.
“Deep Impact” centers on a high school student and scientists with a talented cast including Elijah Wood, Morgan Freeman, and Robert Duvall. With their protagonists being smart high school kids and scientists, there isn’t the same relatability factor that allows the viewer to walk away with the same feeling of being able to save the world. (That said, don’t craft your story around “everyday” characters to sell tickets, write the story that speaks to you.) There isn’t a catchy song or even a big heroes welcome home. Instead they get a tsunami that kills many innocent lives and a presidential address.
Each tell a very different story of heroism and the Earth’s impending doom. Both were successful at the box office and are still referenced culturally, though “Armageddon” takes the prize for most money and longevity. The point is, these movies have the same plot, but because execution is different, both got made and (forgive the pun) had an impact.
If these are stories you will be workshopping in your writing group and you’re worried about plagiarism or the other person stealing your ideas – don’t stress over it. This is a common concern for many writers, but only in rare circumstances is it ever actually an issue. No one genuinely wants to steal other’s ideas. Often times stories are similar in theme or content because of cultural zeitgeist. In 1998, it was asteroids careening towards Earth. Recently, it’s been zombies. For every film and TV show that gets made about asteroids or zombies, there’s another ten still in development and hundreds more being written and read around town.
Another avenue you may want to explore is seeing if this other person wants to partner up. Working with a partner is always a good experience; after alltelevision and filmmaking doesn’t happen in a solitary bubble. If you’ve never done it, consider it a good exercise in teamwork. And who knows? Maybe you’ll both end up with one killer script instead of potentially two mediocre ones. Or not. But you won’t know unless you give it a go.
Moral of this story – take a chance and write YOUR story. Chances are it will be different from the other person’s. Focus on how your story is uniquely yours to tell. If you still feel its too similar, take a leap of faith and write with the other person. No matter what course you decide – WRITE IT!