Saturday 24 August 2013

The Novel Is Dead - Long Live the Novel!

I've moved house since my last post, which hopefully explains the delay in updating the blog. I had planned to make my first post a very upbeat, optimistic affair about fresh starts and the inspirational influence of new surroundings. (It's the main reason I've given the blog a bit of a refresh, too.)

What I wasn't expecting was for a new start to be forced on me so soon after I'd moved. I was applying new sealant to the bath - just one of many, many DIY jobs on my list - when I heard Lauren Laverne on 6Music discussing Casey Affleck's new film with a guest from Empire magazine. Not exactly Earth-shattering news, you might think, but it caught my attention. This is the story.

The important thing, as far as I'm concerned, is that the new film's an adaptation of Paul Brok's short story about a man who uses a malfunctioning teleportation machine and ends up with an unwanted copy of himself. I hadn't read the story when I started writing my novel, but I had heard Paul on the radio talking about the idea - I assume as part of the promotional effort for his book, although it was several years ago and I don't remember anything other than the basic plot he outlined.

I was fascinated by the concept, and wrote a short story inspired by the idea. Eventually, the story evolved into the first chapter of my book (for details about that, see here). I'm sure the direction I've taken the story in will be significantly different from the way the film will unfold, but the problem is, obviously, that the core idea my book is based on is shifting from appearing in a fairly obscure short story to being the basis of a major Hollywood movie. So I'm having to re-evaluate things a bit.

It might be different if it wasn't a science fiction novel. Sharing a plot that's been used in a film is going to make it much harder to pitch the finished book. Or at least, I assume it would - I don't know how many successful novels there have been about genetically reconstructed dinosaurs since Jurassic Park, for instance. I'm guessing not many.

There are plenty of well-used plots, of course, even in science fiction land: time travel, robot uprisings, alien invasions and the like all crop up fairly regularly. This just seems a bit too close for comfort, though, which I suppose is inevitable given that both my book and the new film share the same source material.

My initial gut reaction is to put my novel on hold, and start one of the other projects I've been kicking around recently. It seems a shame, as countless hours (spread over about six years) have gone into writing the book, but in the long run it might be for the best. It's kind of liberating to think I might have a legitimate reason to step away from it, even if only until the film comes out and I can see what they've done with the idea. I've always been uneasy about the "borrowed" nature of that core concept, and in some ways I feel I'd be heading down a road I wasn't keen on continuing along if my first published book was a 'pure' science fiction story. I've always seen myself as aiming for less clear-cut territory, and perhaps this is my opportunity to check my bearings and explore the kind of place I'm really interested in.

So, for the moment, the novel is dead. But something new definitely will rise to take its place; I just have to figure out what it's going to be.


Sherri said...

There is a similar concept in the film 'The Prestige' - though I have to say that multiple High Jackmans can hardly be seen as a problem!

It is difficult knowing what to do when something like this happens, but given that you had concerns anyway, and have other things to work on, maybe waiting to see what they do with the film is not a bad idea. You can always pick it up again later when the film turns out to be nothing like your book - which is the most probable outcome!

Bella De La Rocher said...


Firstly, a respectful silence >> here << for thine stolen idea.

Now allow me to share some exciting news with you about you.

TODAY OF ALL DAYS - I WAS LOOKING AT THAT ARTICLE I WROTE ABOUT 'HOW TO NAME YOUR CHARACTERS' on my blog and in the comments section you wrote a comment about what a fantastic article it was and what a fantastic experience you had when you tried my technique for naming one of your characters AND FURTHER TO THAT you actually ALSO discovered a name and a plot for your next novel !!! I,m not making this up - you should go and have a look >>>>

Can you believe it?

Chloe said...

That's such a crappy thing to happen. But go you for choosing to see it as an opportunity. You're right, there's no totally original plot but you might as well see how close for comfort it is.

I heard an author of children's books talk once. She got an agent for her first novel which was a sort of diary told from the point of view of a boy with Aspergers. Just as it was about to get a deal, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime came out and they couldn't get hers published because everyone thought it was a copy. She had to write an entirely new novel from scratch. BUT she got to use that original novel eventually, years later :)

Dan Purdue said...

Bernadette - Yes, I really liked the way they used the idea of teleportation in The Prestige. I think it's hard to know what to do because there's so much uncertainty -would the fact that a film based on the same concept is set to be made be seen as a positive or negative? One publisher's answer would probably be different from the next. I think the key thing is, it's knocked my interest in the project, and I'm convinced you can't write a decent book if you're not 100% invested in it.

Bella! - How could I have forgotten?! Yes, my next work will definitely have to be to tell the story of DODO UPPERCASE and his attempts to unravel the mystery of A CODED PURPOSE, with only his natural insouciance to fall back on.

Chloe - Thanks; it is a real disappointment, but as you say there's every chance I'll be able to use what I've written (or something like it) once it's clear what the film will be like. I the meantime, I can put my efforts into something new, and - with a bit of luck - something fresher and easier to push on through and finish.

Karen Jones said...

Tut. Actually, TUT!

But, yes, wait until the film happens before you decide on completely abandoning so much work.

And here's hoping the film sinks without a trace.

Anonymous said...

Yes, a right pain in the proverbial, Dan, but I'm not so sure about giving up at this stage, particularly after reading your 'Next Big Thing' post. I think it would depend on how quickly you manage to finish the novel.

When I pitched my one-pager to E4 for a potential TV drama series, I was worried it would be seen as just another zombie thing (it wasn't, but that was the danger) Because I knew that the fourth season of Walking Dead had just been commissioned and World War Z was in production in Scotland with Brad Pitt, I mentioned both of these facts to the commissioning editor to illustrate that zombies were hot(!) As a result he requested a full script treatment and I spent endless sleepless nights last Christmas pulling it together. Okay, they didn't run with it, but that was more to do with the fact that I had never written a line of script in my life - it was the idea they liked, but I still didn't have a script. If you have the product written, you could plug the fact that teleporting is the new 'hot' - but you'd have to get in there quickly! :)

Paul said...

This kind of thing happens to me so often it's scary. I choose to convince myself that I just have to make my close version of events better than anything already out there!

Also you could take heart from the idea that although your idea has been 'done' (I say that loosely, it's unlikely to be exactly the same)there are going to be some people out there have haven't come across it yet. So your version will be completely new! If they then go on to read something similar it'll be 'oh, this is similar to that story Dan Purdue wrote' and hopefully even 'I liked his version better'! So yes, there is the whole 'you read it here first' element but that can also be in your favour if that makes sense?

One strange one that happened to me was in my first novel that's currently on hold until priorities change...

I came up with a drink in a pub called 'Tiger Blood'. Subsequently put the project on hold and then Charlie Sheen had his meltdown and Tiger Blood was being said everywhere! There's not a person in the world who'll believe me when I say I had it first when my novel (hopefully eventually maybe) comes out one day!

Dan Purdue said...

Thanks, Paul - and commiserations to you if you're facing the same problems.

To be honest, I did think about racing on through the redraft and trying to get the book in front of agents and publishers, or even self-publish it, before the film came along and stole my thunder. The amount of work and dedication that would take in a short space of time is the main problem, considering my enthusiasm for the project has dropped through the floorboards.

Of course, you're right when you say that every writer would produce their own unique version of a given story. That's why I'm not giving up hope entirely. I just need to give it a little time, work on something else for a while, and see what happens with the film.

Good luck with your novel(s)!