Paranoia Research

credit: Michael Kronberg

When I look at this picture, it’s hard not to think of Harry Potter. I look at this, and I see Ron telling Harry and Hermione about Charlie getting to work with dragons. I see the fireplace in the Gryffindor Commons, and I see Crookshanks playing with a bit of magic on the floor.

It’s not the case, though; Hermione’s hair is too short. And Mrs. Weasley was the one who knitted sweaters, not Ron. More importantly, this illustration was published by Michael Kronberg in 1993 – a full four years before JK Rowling published her first novel.

Because this isn’t Harry Potter fanart, it’s a sign of my greatest fear as an artist:

That, there being nothing new under the sun, I may accidentally plagiarize the work of someone else. That my “super-original-no-one-else-thinks-like-me” idea has already been published, and I just don’t know it yet.

Accidental or intentional, obvious or arguable, no one likes plagiarism. It’s not just a legal disaster, it’s an emotional one for everyone involved.

I’ve been trying to mitigate this fear, and I truly wonder how others deal with it.

As an example, I love mirrors. I’m fascinated by my brain’s refusal to comprehend a truly dynamic 3D space as two-dimensional. I think placing a reflective surface in our homes, framed on the wall like an achievement, absolutely cries portal.

To an alternate dimension? Sure.

Why not?

And what’s a speculative writer to do, with such a fertile yet well-worn subject of fiction? The first part of the equation, I think, is research. And it’s something we, as fans, have always done. If you like stories, be they about mirrors or mermaids or the moon in the sky, you find them. You find a way to find them because you’re compelled.

But as a writer with an idea, how can you be confident you’ve found enough? The world of knowable content is huge, even before taking accessibility and language into account.

Personally, I try to grow my confidence in two places:

1. I like this website because it’s alive with constant updates. New content is always being written and old content is always being rediscovered. This website has introduced me to so many enjoyable stories, and they make the breadcrumbs easy to follow into layer upon layer of relevant pages. The “Magic Mirror” trope connects me to useful stories under the banners of “Mirror Universe,” “Mirror Self,” “Mirror World,” “Mirror Monster,” and more. These links get me to helpful sources. In this case, to movies like The Broken, Oculus, and The 10th Kingdom, as well as books like The Water Mirror and Witches Abroad.

While every subject has seminal works that are recommended (or reviled) by many, TV Tropes has been helpful for introducing me to lesser known stories.

2. Librarians. These are the detectives who help me find the words, the keywords, that build my
confidence in covered materials. Mirror, I say? The librarian helps me deconstruct that into other possibilities. Have you tried ‘spectrophobia’? How about ‘looking glass,’ or ‘scrying,’ or ‘doppelgangers’? Let’s talk a whirl through the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Index. It’s not perfect, but I think you’d be interested in the subheading of ‘Magic Objects’ under the ‘Tales of Magic’ category. Oh, it says here that Tale Type 1336A is stories about people not recognizing their own reflection – is that in line with what you’re looking for?

I’ve been able to connect with some really knowledgeable reference and research librarians over the years. Especially in this time of COVID, accessing online content from the Library of Congress has been rewarding.

Writers are often asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” I think the question I’d really love to know, especially in the world of writing, is “Where do you affirm your ideas?”