Originality – Does it exist?

I just had the first class of this semester’s teen writing workshop at the library, and as always, I’m amazed at the level of creativity. Every kid in that class has ideas just bubbling out of them! At the end of the class, I fielded individual questions, and I got one that wasn’t new.

“What if someone has already used my idea?”

On this very blog we’ve discussed trends in YA books, and of course we’ve seen a slow change from paranormal to dystopian themes. This isn’t to say that paranormal isn’t still hot. It’s just that with Hunger Games, the craziness has swung to alternate futures (see Delirium, Matched, and Divergent series for example).

But here’s the thing. As careful as we authors have to be about the ownership of ideas, the beautiful aspect of human creativity is that there are thousands (maybe millions) of ways to tell a story with similar elements. Just because vampires, angels, and dystopian futures have exploded on YA pages, it doesn’t mean that there’s not room for more of those themes (although it’s fine if you’re looking for something different too).

For example, I just released the first book in my Teen Mobster Series (Yes, self promotion here. Just part of the game, people). Does that mean I have ownership over all things related to the Mafia? Heck no! I have ownership of my story and characters, yes. But the subject matter? No. Now, if someone releases a book about some kid being taken in my a mob family in New Jersey and the kid gets caught in the middle of the FBI and the Mafia–well, that’s where we might have a problem. The ownership of ideas can get complicated.

I guess my best advice  to the teens is to read as much as they can. Perhaps this seems like an oxymoron (“If I read something similar, they can accuse me of copying!!!”). But actually, this is a way to make sure that whatever they put down on paper is fresh. Maybe not original, but at least it’s totally unique:)