Wednesday, May 5, 2010

WTF - it's been done?!?

John McFetridge

Years ago I worked as a location scout on movies shooting in Toronto. I worked on one called First Degree with Rob Lowe, and on The Protector with Frank Zagarino and Matthias Hues I got promoted from location scout to writer. That may not happen very often, but it was a low budget movie and the script called for all kinds of expensive locations. So, I’d find a location the movie could afford and rewrite the scene to fit it. By the end of production, I’d written enough of the movie to get credit for it.

Or maybe the blame for it, depending on how you want to look at it.

Then, a few years ago I had an idea for a private eye. I thought driving around town with a camera looking for locations could lead to driving around town following people having affairs and taking pictures of them. Of course, that’s not what the novel would be about, that’s what the character would say he did on his other cases.

But this case would be different, he’d get hired to find a missing person or find some evidence from an old crime and get sucked into investigating it, or... something.

So, I started writing the book. And one day I mentioned it to a friend of mine and he said, “Oh yeah, Jeffery Deaver has a series about a location scout solving mysteries.”

And I said, “WTF?”

So I went and looked it up and sure enough, there it was, “Shallow Graves: A Location Scout Mystery Series.”

Series, how many are there?

Turns out there are three “Location Scout” mysteries; Shallow Graves, Bloody River Blues and Hell’s Kitchen , that now have Jeffery Deaver in big letters on the cover and underneath that in small letters, “written as William Jefferies.”

Has everything been done?”

Of course, it really doesn’t matter that everything’s been done, every writer has to put their own spin on it, give it their own voice. After all, no one’s going to say, “I was going to write a private eye novel about an ex-cop who drinks too much but I found out it’s been done.”

No, you make it your own.

So, someday I may write a mystery novel about a location scout. Or, maybe I’ll try out the character in a short story and try to sell it to EQMM or AHMM. They pay, right?

Oh well, if they don't buy it I can always post it online somewhere.


Paul D Brazill said...

The danger of trying to write something that hasn't been done before is that you get Jayne Austin - Vampire Hunter.From Mars.Or whatever ...

John McFetridge said...

Galleycat have started something they call a literary remix with 150 readers rewriting a Horatio Alger novel.

Sounds odd and maybe fun. Might be something to do with crime fiction.

I was thinking of a mash-up - replace Hercule Poirot wth Sam Spade or have Miss Marple involved with the Maltese Falcon. Same case, different detective...

Paul D Brazill said...

Now that sounds fun. I'm reminded of that Neil Simon film 'Murder By Death'. I remember that being great fun.

pattinase (abbott) said...

At Bouchercon one year, three hard-boiled writers and three cozy writer were given a bare bones plot and had to copy the other group's style in a brief story. The cozies writers won hands-down at copying the noirish style. Interesting.

Steve Weddle said...

I see what you did there.

Ron Earl Phillips said...

The Simpsons did it.

If I tossed every idea I had because it had been done, I'd be out of ideas or at least stories. While a voracious reader, it's impossible to read everything. I even like Deaver, and I've never read those particular books.

Paul D Brazill said...

My late brother used to sing on the cruise ships going around the Greek Islands. When he was bored he would perfom the hits of Johnny Cash in the style of Mario Lanza and verse vica.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

I don't think there are many *new* plots out there. But yes, the spin that an author puts on them is the reason we read. The writer's voice and perspective can really make a done-to-death plot feel fresh, new and exciting. I always love when I find those books.

And Paul - I gotta say I would love to hear Mario Lanza stuff done in the style of Johnny Cash! Just the thought has me smiling.

Matthew McBride said...

Great post. The same exact thing happened to me. Probably to all of us. I wrote a novel about 5 guys who rob a riverboat casino, because I couldn't think of it ever really being done. Not on a riverboat anyway. -A month after I finished my 100 thousandth word, the Coen bro's came out w/ a movie about guys who rob a Riverboat casino. Dangit.