When Your Story Is Stolen By Reality

I think many of us have seen the ‘Simpsons Predicted It’ articles and memes on the Internet.  Seems the show has been around so long that it’s bound to get a few odd things right from time to time.  We find it amusing and silly, but it seems to happen a lot more often than we realize.  It can be really awkward and disconcerting as you’re about to see coming up.

First, a story about myself.  Way back in the spring of 2015, I wrote a dystopian action adventure comedy called Crossing Bedlam.  Some people might remember this currently defunct series.  The premise was that the rest of the world joined forces to isolate the United States because it was causing trouble.  This idea stemmed from another idea I made in the summer of 2014 called ‘The Shattered States’.  Name and setting stuck, but I traded politics for a Rated-R adventure because I had just watched ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ and ‘Deadpool’ in one sitting.  Anyway, part of the history here is that there was physically isolation by heavily armed walls being on the land borders to keep the Americans inside the country.  International navy took care of the waters with extreme violence because this was going to be a silly idea.  I really enjoyed writing this and thought things were so bizarre that I was in the clear.  I mean, right?

I finished writing the book and put it on the shelf to edit later.  A few days later, I put the news on and hear the first speech about a wall to stop people from entering the country from Mexico.  Needless to say, I was a little confused because it did feel like it struck really close to the concept I was going for.  Even worse, I went through my notes for future ideas, which I made the same day I finished the outline for Crossing Bedlam.  What was the note?  ‘Nevada- Old billionaire and politicians take over state; Put bounty on Lloyd and Cassidy.’  I planned to have the billionaire working towards taking over the entire country to bring it back to what he felt was its greatest period.  He’d have family and loyal sycophants by his side.

No sense in hiding the real world connection.  I had scratched the idea off the list when Donald Trump won the nomination and didn’t publish Crossing Bedlam until the following February.  I was terrified that people would look at what I was doing simply by coincidence and think it was all on purpose.  I try really hard to keep my politics out of my stories, so this felt like a danger zone that I was steadily approaching. A few years later, I did write that book and put it up on my blog by sections as ‘Protecting Bedlam’.  This was more for catharsis and wanting to see how wild I could go.  The series wasn’t selling, so why not?  Even when doing this, I was really scared about the accusations that would fly and if it would hurt the rest of my books.  It can be paralyzing when you see reality imitating your story, especially if you haven’t published it yet.  So, what can you do?

  1. Trash the story and find something else.  This is the one that I see very often with new authors.  I’ve done it too.  We can be scared to connect our fiction to reality because it brings in certain expectations.  Those involved in events will want the facts to be right even if you didn’t intend for there to be a connection.  Many find it easier to junk everything and start over.  That way, you avoid any of the pitfalls that come from fact checkers that mistake your fiction for commentary on reality.
  2. Historical events can always be similar, so you may need to do some research to put your mind at ease.  Maybe what is going on has happened before, so your story isn’t connected solely to the modern event.  You may still junk it, but now you can see that there is a precedent (right word?) for what you’re thinking of.  Expect fact-checkers here too, but now you’re better suited for handling them.
  3. Stay the course and put the reality out of your mind.  Coincidences happen, which isn’t your fault.  By the time you finish the book and are ready to publish, people will have moved on to something else, right?  Even if they haven’t, you’re sure tons of other authors are going to pounce on the event.  This is the case at times, especially if you have controversy.  You could see yourself as being ahead of the game and maybe striking first.  This is a viable option.

Of course, all of this comes with risks.  People don’t always understand what came first or believe a person if they said they were working on the idea when reality stepped in.  I had plenty of people accuse me of taking inspiration from current events when I designed the ‘Shattered States’.  They didn’t believe that I created the world in 2014 for a failed idea and simply reused it for the newer idea that I finished in 2015 and published in 2016.  Just happened that way.  One could always point out that it takes a long time to create a story and get it to the public, so the chances of reality stepping in is actually higher than one would think.  Just that you’ll always have that group who doesn’t believe you.

So, have you ever written or designed a story that is suddenly mimicked by reality?  What did you do?  If it hasn’t happened, what would you do if it did?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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18 Responses to When Your Story Is Stolen By Reality

  1. ospreyshire says:

    I’ve had some feelings about scrapping stories or having reality affect the release. Last year, I wrote a part of my Hollanduscosm series for Camp NaNoWriMo and part of it involved an extraterrestrial epidemic that affected people. As I was busy editing that and writing more stories in that series, Coronavirus eventually happened. I did put a disclaimer in that book saying it was written before COVID was a thing. It was tough because it had integral things to the overall story with the other books.

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    • It forces a tough decision that ignores reality. A book could take years or months to finish. That’s from idea conception to final publishing. So many things can happen after that, which turns into a strange coincidence.

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      • ospreyshire says:

        Definitely. I can certainly speak from experience when it comes to writing books. The first book I wrote was in 2014, but wasn’t released until 2018. Life can certainly change things.

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      • I finished the first book of my fantasy series around 2000. I published it in 2013. A really big jump. Thankfully, it had no real connection to reality. Unfortunately, I published around the time political fantasy was more popular than action adventure fantasy.

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      • ospreyshire says:

        Oh, wow. That’s a huge time gap there. At least the book had that going for it with not reflective real life events.

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      • To be fair, there wasn’t a real self-publishing or ebook industry when I finished it. I didn’t get the idea to try for it until 2012 after having a few hundred rejections/no responses. I kind of kick myself for not jumping into the whole thing when it started since I had 3 books that were at final draft stages. Guess it is what it is though.

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      • ospreyshire says:

        Understandable. Sorry about the rejections that happened. It’s their loss. I wished I would’ve wrote books earlier instead of getting into other hobbies.

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  2. L. Marie says:

    Oh my word, Charles. 😓 It’s so hard when that happens! Yes, this has happened to me. Around 2003/2004, I wrote a science fiction novel about a bike messenger and queried publishers. Netted rejections. Well, years later, a friend asked me if I’d seen a videogame that had just debuted. I told him no. Knowing that I’d written a novel with this premise, he went on to talk about the game. It had a very similar story. So, the book remains in my computer and won’t see the light of day.

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  3. I think this must be a common thing. I wrote Viral Blues and put it out months before Covid landed. Even though this story is nothing like our reality, I’m sure people have a random thought or two about my intentions. I published Grinders early this year. It has a lot of people who work from home, shop online with delivery service, etc. I thought I came up with some fairly cool ideas and didn’t need reality to step in.

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  4. I can honestly say that I have never felt like an idea of mine became reality. I’m not sure what I would do in that case. I don’t think I would stop working on the project, because I insist with myself that I must finish the draft. But I might stop and think, if I’m pretending for a moment that what I write can predict or shape what is to come — what would I want to see as the outcome? And maybe I would finish the project with “the way things should be” more than “the sucky way things are.”

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