Art imitating art – I didn’t know, I swear!

The strangest thing happened to me the other day.

I am currently reading The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis and I came across a narrative within the book that gave me the chills. It freaked me out a little not only because it was a bit scary but because it bore a striking resemblance to one of my own stories.
I state for the record that I have never read the Monk before nor did I know what the story was about beforehand. All I knew was that it was written during the 18th century and was set in a monastery. I was completely ignorant of any subplots. The narrative I speak of belongs to one of these subplots. As I continued to read this part I kept thinking: God, this sounds just like Crossroad Inn!

This got me thinking about the concept of ideas and the collective human conscience. Now we all know that there’s no such thing as an original idea. But there is something disconcerting about the thought of coming up with an idea only to find that someone had already beaten you to it centuries before. Disappointing if you’re an inventor but disconcerting if you’re a writer. I’m not going to provide you with an essay on plagiarism but I will say that I take comfort in the axiom that there’s no such thing as an original idea. It is the employment of that idea that matters and what will be analyzed if you ever are slapped with a lawsuit.

But is it possible for two people to come up with the exact same idea and treat this idea in a very similar manner without either of them being aware of it? We have heard of thoughts being transferred through telepathy, prayers and spells but what about thoughts in the form of ideas? Off course I’m not saying that Lewis sent me this idea from beyond the grave (because as honoured as I would feel, it would seem impudent of him to have chosen me as his recipient), but can concrete ideas travel through the collective human conscience and attach itself to more than one living being, without this attachment being influenced by a prior incident or factor? If so then I find this quite scary.
Before you consider me a drama queen, I have entertained some rational explanations for my poor Crossroad Inn. I might have read something that was influenced by the Monk and somehow the idea came full circle. The truth is I forgot how I came up with the idea for the story in the first place so the reason might actually be more mundane than metaphysical. Still, it doesn’t take away the surreal-like feeling of this situation.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever written a story, novel, song or poem and then read something much later on that bore a resemblance so uncanny to your work, it defied natural coincidence?

And just for you, I’ve pasted an extract from The Crossroad Inn for you to read, and no, it was not inspired by Matthew Lewis’ The Monk! 😉
Click on the My Stories page above.

21 thoughts on “Art imitating art – I didn’t know, I swear!

  1. Martin Shone says:

    What you say here is how I think of ideas. I believe in the big brain theory where up there somewhere is a consciousness of something. If we think of an idea and don’t act upon it within a period of time, the idea will retreat back up to the big brain ready for the next recipient.

    Sometimes the recipient can’t think of anything to write about or talk about an then out of the darkness comes an idea, a feeling and the words flow.

    Up there in the consciousness is where I’d like to live, amongst all those lovely words 🙂

    • Nisha says:

      You put it so eloquently Martin, I couldn’t say it better myself. I cant imagine how many untapped ideas there are out there in the ‘consciousness’, ideas that were not followed through. It’s great motivation for ‘carpe diem’- seizing the day, seizing the moment and taking advantage of every great opportunity or idea that comes your way.

      Thanks for that great comment! 🙂

  2. beckyday6 says:

    Oooooh! Spooky! It’s like deja vu but for writing, haha! I’ve never had anything like that happen to me, but I have turned up at places that I’ve never seen before and that I’ve never seen pictures of either and gotten quite freaked out because it looked exactly like a dream I’d had the previous night. Thats happened to me twice, it was quite disconcerting actually, lol!
    I don’t believe ideas can travel through the collective human conscience like you mentioned but I wish it was true. It would be cool to wake up one day with Einstein’s thoughts and ideas in your head! It would be a great idea for a book 🙂

    • Nisha says:

      Your dreams remind me of that show Medium with patricia arquette. You could be semi-psychic! And I know that feeling, it’s sounds so cool when you are relating the incident to someone else but at the time it felt disconcerting, leaving you feeling slightly anxious :/

      And you right, waking up with someone else’s ideas in your head sounds like a great idea in itself for a book! Though I wouldn’t really know what to do with Einstein’s thoughts, but Becky if you want to write a book like this, you have my permission to use that idea 😉

      • beckyday6 says:

        Aha, I wish I was semi-psychic, that would be cool, and I love that show 🙂
        Thanks, I may just do that hehe!

  3. nelle says:

    I’ve run into news touching on stuff I’ve written, although with no real connection save for one unusual element placing it in the news. I’ve been told I write like an author I read once, after the person made the remark. I didn’t really see the connection, although I did find a few things that seemed close to the way I’d describe something. I won’t read more, because with that notion placed in my mind, I don’t need any subliminal/subconscious influence.

    I can see where you would feel a tad uneasy, but I’d not be too worried about spiritual suggestions. It bothered me some reading how a wild quantum theory posits everything we imagine exists in another universe. So if I write a story where people die… you can follow that trail. If anyone ever brought that into the realm of accepted theory, I’d never type another word!

    • Nisha says:

      OMG, imagine writing something and the next day it appeared in the news?! There is an urban legend about an American journalist who was so bored one day that he wrote a fictional short story about a volcanic eruption on an island he made up. The next day a volcano really did erupt killing thousands of people. And it happened on an island, the name of which, sounded too similar to the one he made up!

      I don’t blame you for feeling apprehensive about writing if our thoughts/ideas really did exist in an alternate universe. I would always wonder whether my thoughts were merely predictions or whether I was actually causing the incidents to happen.

      Sometimes its good not to analyze these things too much and just go with the creative flow! 🙂

  4. Nisha – I will absolutely get around to reading “The Crossroad Inn” when I get the chance! I am so intrigued, as I read “The Monk” several years ago and am curious to see the paralells you speak of! “The Monk” is super creepy and one of the best gothic books of it’s time. I hope you’re enjoying it!

    • Nisha says:

      I heard a few years back that its one of the best gothic novels ever written but I struggled to find the book. And then a month ago, low and behold, there it was, in a bookstore in Durban! So in spite of the list I made of books to read, I felt I had to give this priority.

      I only posted an extract of Crossroad Inn, Louise, so you might not see the full parallel, thankfully it only resembles a short narrative in the Monk where one of the characters-Raymond le Cisternas, relates his history. Not sure what was spookier-his story or the strange coincidence of it resembling Crossroad Inn 😉

  5. F. says:

    Creepy but cool! Great minds think alike, Nisha! 🙂

  6. Chris says:

    I’m not a big believer in any forces that collectively capture ideas or anything like that. I personally believe in coincidences. Being that there are so many writers in the world, it seems very likely that at least two people will think up a similar idea. However, I hate this thought! The idea that someone else out there could beat me to my own story that I worked so hard on to make original and my own is a scary thought! But, maybe that’s what makes being a writer that much more fun.

    • Nisha says:

      When random chaos theory meets the law of averages, anything is possible I guess.
      And yes it is absolutely terrifying to think that someone, in another part of the world could be writing the exact same story as you are now. It might seem fun to laugh or marvel at coincidences like these but I dont think anyone slapped with a plagiarism lawsuit would agree! 😉

      • Chris says:

        Very true, haha. These coincidences just make me work harder to come up with original ideas.
        I believe Edgar Allen Poe had the right idea! Just get beyond crazy with your writing. Not many people can write like that man (Genius?) did.

      • Nisha says:

        Poe certainly got out of his comfort zone, which is why his works are so emotively dark and honest in a macabre way. Eccentric people tend to be geniuses so I guess he must be one! 😉

      • Now THAT would be a great premise for a story…two authors, unknown to each other, on opposite sides of the world, writing the exact same story, being driven to do so by the characters themselves. Thanks for a thought-provoking post, Nisha, and for the heads-up on “The Monk”. It’s been added to my list of books to read. kt

      • Nisha says:

        The idea is yours Kelly! You’re free to use it. Would love to read a novel like that!

        Yes The Monk is a great book, it starts off a bit slow at first but the latter stages are a thrilling ride. Let me know what you think when finish read it! 🙂

  7. trixfred30 says:

    The wireless (or was it lightbulb, actually could have been the telephone, i can’t remember which) was apparently invented at almost exactly the same time by someone in Europe and someone in the USA. One of the inventors had better marketing and lucked out!

    • Nisha says:

      Thats interesting, would love to find out more about this! I definitely think when it comes to shared ideas, luck plays a great part in who succeeds first in taking that idea further. It’s like being in a race you didnt know you were taking part in! What a scary thought..

  8. Widdershins says:

    So many inventions have occurred to their inventors simultaneously, and have been documented as such (just as trixfred30 said) that it’s no surprise to me that you too had this experience.

    The fascinating part is where does the inspiration come from, and what differentiates one person from another when they both ‘get’ the same inspiration and end up with vastly different results. Is it that one is open to the experience and another isn’t? Questions and theories abound. That, I think is the story in all this.

    • Nisha says:

      What about if the results are very similar? Is it coincidence?

      Since every person is unique with very different circumstances, I personally dont think the way a person treats an idea(or inspiration) is indicative of whether they are more open to the experience or not. Sometimes it depends on timing and other factors like public opinion.

      But you are so right, this is really a fascinating topic and really got me thinking. I would so love to know what exactly is happening in the universe when a person gets a burst of inspiration.
      I guess its one of those things we’ll never figure out! 😛

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