What to Do When the Plot of Your Book Turns Up on TV

Last night’s episode of Grimm featured an interesting story – one I’ve been writing, off and on, since 2008.

koschei the deathless grimm
Koschei the Deathless (illustration by Ivan Bilibin)

The answer to the question posed in the title of this blog is pretty simple: when the plot of your book turns up on TV you either trash your work, or you write it anyway. Curiously, this is not the first time something like this has happened to me.

You’re probably thinking, ‘All stories have been written before, that’s why Hollywood does so many remakes.’ And that’s true, but this is the second time I’ve been in the middle of a project, only to look up and discover that someone has beaten me to the punch. The first time it happened I had just started a screenplay about a teenage compulsive liar whose lies start to come true, then stumbled over a movie trailer with the exact same premise, though the protagonist of that movie was male. (Sadly I’ve forgotten the title, and it tragically never made it to theaters.) At the time, I was struggling with my script, and only too happy to have an excuse to abandon the project.

Forward seven years, and a very familiar quote was superimposed on the opening shot of this week’s Grimm. Grimm, of all things. At first, I was excited because I knew exactly what story would be featured in the episode – or, rather, what creature. Koschei the Deathless, evil wizard of Russian folklore, has been the subject of a book I’ve been writing through several incarnations since my senior year of college, when it was still called Deathless.

The plot of my book is entirely different from the plot of this episode, especially considering my world isn’t populated by Wesen. However, there was an almost throw-away scene in the trailer where the writer of “Red Menace” appeared to have read my mind – or my notes. I won’t claim to have thought of it first; the fact that it made it to network television tells me there’s probably a club of people who’ve had this idea.

So what did I do when I heard a plot point from my book come out of Monroe’s mouth? I laughed. Seven years ago I probably wouldn’t have found it so funny, and probably would have resigned my book to a dusty corner of my hard drive, but I’ve learned a lot since then. One of the harshest and hardest lessons: you are never as clever or as original as you want to think you are. Deal with it, and move on. Originality is not in the plot, after all, but in the telling, and if great minds think alike, then at least you have the comfort of knowing your mind is as great as someone else’s.

Last time this happened I gave up my project because I wasn’t really happy with it, and I used the coincidence as an excuse. But this time, I like the story that I’m working on, and I think it’s full of good ideas that have intertwined quite naturally. I have no doubt that the writer of “Red Menace” and I mixed Russian history and folklore together for the same reason – how else do you explain Rasputin?

All I hope is that some day, if this book finds a publisher, I won’t have to slog through a million e-mails accusing me of stealing ideas from Aunt Marie’s trailer.

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