Then there’s the argument that there’s only 7 plots. I don’t buy into that oversimplification personally, because really, there’s ONE plot. Yep, that’s it. Here it is: “There’s a conflict. It’s resolved” (NOT being resolved counts as a way of being resolved, strangely enough). So really, every story is just a derivative of Gilgamesh, because it was the first we know of to use the ONE plot.
Yep, we’re all plagiarizers. Accept it.
All right, we all accept that we stole from Gilgamesh, but then again, the author of that stole from surroundings and stories from others, things that happened, so on. So it’s not original either. Nothing is. But how similar is too similar?
Of course fanfiction is too similar since it’s well, fiction written by fans about the story they already love. Maybe it’s good for REcreation (ha) or something, but it’s not the kind of thing to get a book deal (Unless you get commissioned to write one with the licensed characters, it can be done!) I’ve heard stories of publishers that take authors that did fanfiction, though I imagine a lot of them would be wary if they cruise the interweb and find a story from a submitting author about a love triangle between Percy Weasly, Sulu, and John Conner; it might give the impression that it’s hard for this individual to come up with his/her own material, and that there might be legal issues down the road.
So how similar is too similar? Honestly, it’s not a solid line, but a line in the sand the tide can wash away at any moment.
A story about an orphan girl with a flame scar fighting an evil wizard of light and going to a Sorceress’ middle school called Swineboils might be a problem. But a teenage vampire romance might not be (obviously, seeing as how many of those take up shelf space). So, what to do?
Just write the story you want. It’s great for a first draft. Then decide what to do with it. If it’s a story about a fellowship taking down a superdemon by destroying a ring, then try again. If the next one is a suave pirate returning treasure to end the immortality of his former crew, well, maybe writing should be more of a hobby than a career. If you enjoy it, have at it. Maybe eventually something will work out.
Because these kinds of stories can be a good place to start. If you’re serious about having this a career, you should take a close look at your story and examine it, make it as good and unique as you can before sending it to the big wigs. And be honest. If the villain is a straight ripoff of Sephiroth in FFVII, then change him until he’s not. Take the things you didn’t like about Sephiroth and fix them until it’s the way you like. It could end up becoming something that hardly resembles the inspiration, something almost original.
And that’s what we’re all trying for.