What if Someone Steals Your Story Idea?

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On August 7th, 2011—almost a full year after I started my upcoming novel, A Time to DieI had an experience that left me numb, cold, and questioning my purpose behind writing. An experience that, I’m sure, every author (and maybe even musician, screenwriter, playwright, poet, painter, and so on) dreads. On that day, I went home and—as is typical for a writer—spewed out my overflowing emotions onto paper in journal form. Please allow me to share, in full author vulnerability, what I wrote that day:

What if you were called to write? Amidst years of education pursuing a completely unrelated profession, God whispers in your ear. He inserts a syringe of passion for ink and typing. Blank, uncrinkled paper is the new chocolate. You can’t get enough of it.
What if He douses you with your heart’s desire? Your story. The story. The story you’re meant to write. The story you can’t keep inside. The story your entire life has been pushing you to write and you never knew it. Words flow out of you onto the paper—not yours, but His. You read back over it in awe, unable to believe the script from your fingers.
Really, God? you ask. You’re letting me write this?
It’s too much. You are so honored to hold in your hands an original idea. It develops perfectly with every moment you sit at the keyboard. It overflows. It’s everywhere—in your mind, in your veins, in your heart, in your blood. You’re so full of joy and excitement you almost can’t breathe.
You pray over it. You think on it day and night. You cry over it, growing frustrated, sad, pleased, hopeful…
This novel is everything you’ve ever desired or begged God for. You want it to be perfect. For Him. You’ve never striven at something so hard in your life. You know He’s going to use it to glorify Him. He gave it to you and you’ll cherish it forever. You’ll write with the best of every ability He’s ever given you. The words come like melting honey.
Then you see a new movie trailer.
Four minutes later, your heartbeat stops cold. Icicles pierce your joy.
Your story is on screen–or at least your concept. The story He gave you. The story you fell in love with. The story you knew was original and entrusted to you. Every word was sculpted from beauty and inspiration completely from Him. But there it is, in a movie–an off-shoot of your own idea. A mediocre production of what you were hoping could be a life-changing novel. It releases in only a couple months. Suddenly, the purpose of your novel falls like a stone into a pool of tar and sinks to the bottom.
You scream at the movie trailer, “Thief!” but you know thievery is impossible. Someone else just picked up the dregs of your same brainwave–some screenwriter or hopeful movie director. You couldn’t have stopped them, but you want to rip the film reels out of their theaters.
What about your novel? What about your dreams? What about that calling?
What’s going on, God? you ask. What are your thoughts? Why?
You’re so confused. You’re stumped. You want to cry, but you’re not sure you’re allowed to. Where do you go from here? Do you keep writing? Do you give up? Was it your fault somehow? Did you hear Him wrong?
You need help. Guidance. You need…Him. All you seem to think or cry is, “Why?”
Is there anyone with an answer or are you doomed to just wonder and wait? Wait and maybe watch the movie…hoping it’s a flop. Hoping it’s never released. Maybe you tear up your novel and then wish you could glue it back together and go back in time. Write it sooner. Beat the screenwriter to the punch.
Who knows?
You don’t. You’re practically drowning in a swirl of numb questions.

 

It’s funny how my mindset has changed since this moment. I had to face one of my greatest fears and…I survived. In the process, my all-controlling story-hoarding nature realized A Time to Die (and subsequent books) have never been and will never be mine. Not mine to lose, to keep, to have stolen, or to glory in. This experience of facing my great prideful fear may have been mind and body-numbing for a while, but in the end I became a more envisioned and determined writer.

I went and saw the movie–In Time–and, it was okay.

In Time Movie Poster

Photo borrowed from IMDB website.

It was nothing like A Time to Die, other than using the concept of a numbered visual lifespan. Afterward, I was actually disappointed they didn’t use the concept to its full potential. It made me want to write better. It made me realize that anyone can dream up the same concept but deliver it with complete uniqueness.

I’ve had to face this fear of having someone “steal” my story idea twice–although it’s never been true thievery, just similar imaginations. Once with A Time to Die and once with my next book series I hope to publish after the Time series. I survived that moment, too, and I’m still going to write the series. By the time I get to it, there may even be a movie out about it, just like with Time. But I’ve learned it’s okay.

Am I alone in this fear? Am I the only author who has it? I don’t believe so. It’s so easy to turn our own writings–our own creativity–into personal idols (the dreaded word) of pride. I’ve by no mean mastered my fear–there are still days when I write in a frenzied panic to beat any other imagineers out there. It took me a long time to own up to the fact my fears were based solely in my pride. Just because I understand this now, doesn’t mean they’re gone, but I know how to face them when I (inevitably) encounter them.

If God wants me to write a story, it’s worth pushing through the possibility of seeing my idea already out there. No matter what, no one can every really steal your story idea because God has made you and your imagination completely unique. Even if He gives someone else the same concept, it will never be the same as yours. The reality is, if He wants you to write it, nothing but your refusal can stop that.

 

So tell me, do you have a fear or experience of your story idea being “stolen”? 

 

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About Nadine Brandes

Nadine Brandes is an adventurer, fusing authentic faith with bold imagination. She never received her Hogwarts letter, but rest assured she’s no Muggle (and would have been in Ravenclaw House, thank you very much.) This Harry Potter super-nerd has been known to eat an entire package of Oreos (family size) by herself, and watches Fiddler on the Roof at least once a year. She writes about brave living, finding purpose, and other worlds soaked in imagination. Her dystopian trilogy (The Out of Time Series) challenged her to pursue shalom, which is now her favorite word (followed closely by bumbershoot.) When Nadine’s not taste-testing a new chai or editing fantasy novels, she and her knight-in-shining armor (nickname: “hubby”) are out pursuing adventures.
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6 Comments

  1. Absolutely, and let’s be honest: this is a fear that particularly resonates with new, unpublished authors. We’re told networking is critical, but that requires sharing our material in workshops, contests, and critique groups with people who are essentially strangers, knowing full well that – just like us – they’re desperately searching for a great idea that will help them break through.

    It’s an ever-present fear not only that they would steal your story idea, but perhaps could swipe a unique approach you used for crafting a description or building a character.

    If I didn’t fully believe in and trust God, I don’t think I’d be able to handle it. But if that were the case, I’d be frozen as a writer rather than connecting with the great people who have taught me so much and helped me grow. You have to have that faith.

    • Nadine Brandes

      That’s so true, Clint, that it resonates a bit more with unpublished authors. I was surprised to see it dissipate when I became contracted. But then, as fears always do, they just latched onto my next story idea after the Time series, trying to convince me I’ll never write it fast enough. I believe this fear changes for published authors, but I wonder if it ever goes away.

      I’m so glad you’ve been able to find that place where you can connect instead of fear the people God places in your life. After all, if our vision is right, we should be pursuing His people through our writing, not just clinging to our own ideas. 😉 I think you’ve got it down pat.

  2. When I was growing up, across the field from our house, someone built some kind of communications tower with a satellite dish aimed directly at our house. Our ideas were constantly stolen. My brother and I kept talking about a superhero story where the superheros had kids and were trying to lead normal lives–and the Incredibles came out. My other brother had an idea for where this bad boy meets a good Christian girl and she reforms him–and a Walk to Remember came out.

    We blamed that satellite dish, which was obviously picking up our ideas.

    • Nadine Brandes

      Wow, that’s crazy, Kessie!

      The success of those two movies proves you have a highly skilled imagination! 🙂

  3. I can relate! I have been in the middle of reading books, and I start groaning because I found an element very similar to mine. Nothing is new under the sun! For the longest time I was afraid I would inadvertently copy another author’s story element, style, idea, etc so I didn’t read. AND then as I started to get back into reading, I was like: “Oh, bugger! I did not copy this!” There’s just some things that are universal. Ha! Here’s hoping we add our unique twist, thoughts, style to our stories that no one will ever notice. 🙂

  4. I googled ” ‘man who was Thursday’ ‘for a new generation’ ” and found that one Edward D. Casey has already remade G K Chesterton’s classic as “Thursday 2.0.” (Is it ironic that I quite obviously stole my idea from Chesterton before someone “stole” it from me?) But I checked it out and Casey had done it very differently from the way I had in mind. I agree that there is room to use the same idea many times in different ways.

    Another idea of mine, which I’m actually working on, is to write Christian fantasy with countries in some ways more like C. S. Lewis’ Glome than his Narnia. I haven’t seen anyone doing that nowadays. But if I do, I’ll be happy, because one of the reasons I’m doing it is that I want it to be a trend.

I love hearing from you!