Writing Tip #14 — Google it

All right, this is an especially peculiar writing tip, but if your manuscript relies heavily on its unique premise, google the idea. Some plot lines have been done a million times (coming of age, implosion of a marriage, etc) because they are character based —  it’s the way in which these simple stories are told that make them stand out from one another. Which is fine.

But some storylines fall into the “that’s a new idea” or “it’s been done” catagories. Apparently, scores of people over the last decade or so have pitched the idea of cloning Jesus Christ. They probably all thought they had stumbled upon a slam dunk and completely fresh idea. I’m sure they weren’t stealing it from each other – as cloning became more popular as a topic, the concept just popped into multiple heads. But cloning Christ’s DNA is not a premise that can be repeated with much hope of success.

Here are some other “been there and done that” kind of plots:

In a new version of The Wizard of Oz the wicked witch is the good guy. (Wicked)

Two cowboys fall in love and struggle with their secret relationship. (Brokeback Mountain)

A retelling of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice with supernatural creatures inserted. (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies)

A married woman falls in love with a traveling photographer who is making a study of covered bridges. (The Bridges of Madison County)

A pig makes friends with a spider who can write words in her webs. (Charlotte’s Web)

If your plot is as unusual as the made up examples below, search the web using a few keywords.

A priest falls in love with a pregnant surrogate mother on the run from the mobster who hired her. Try keywords “novel priest romance pregnant mob”

Three sisters open a tattoo parlor on the spot where a famous silent movie star was murdered and find the actor haunts their ink and needles. Keywords “novel tattoo ghost silent movie star”

A young woman writer investigates the innocence of John Wilkes Booth’s physician who was hanged — she unexpectedly uncovers another mystery in his past. Keywords “novel Wilkes Booth doctor investigation girl writer”

You want to know if there is a recent and/or well-distributed novel with a similar premise to yours. If you find a close match, for example let’s say you’re googling the priest idea and find the following excerpt: “pastor develops inappropriate feelings for an unwed mother who is hiding from a well-known crime family” you can check out a summary of that novel, skim a few reviews, or read the whole book to see if your story is dissimilar enough. If you don’t get a hit with the keywords then you’re probably in the clear. What you don’t want to do is write an entire draft that no one will read because it’s  an unintentional copycat.

This is a good idea for titles, too. If you have an unusual title, for example “Kindly Beans and Other Emotional Veggies” you’re probably fine, but google it anyway. If you find a novel out there called “Friendly Beans and Other Greens” then you’ll want to rethink. Or if you have a plain and simple title (The Truth, Love Birds, Nowhere, Autumn . . . ) you’ll still want to google it, but just to see if there’s a very recent or bestseller book out there with the same name. If it’s been years since it came out or if the other book is relatively obscure, you can probably use the title with no confusion.


2 Responses to “Writing Tip #14 — Google it”

  1. Mary Says:

    These are great! I wrote a book called ‘Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits’ that was a romance set in the south, but I had to change the title because so many people said the title put them off.

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