When I come up with ideas for writing, sometimes I’m already seated in front of my laptop and I just start right then and there. Sometimes I might be slightly busy, so I open up a Word document and drop a quick summary in there for later. Sometimes I may be lying awake in bed at some stupid hour of the night, and I rue both my proximity to my laptop and my unwillingness to get out of bed and use it. But there are also times I’m not in a place to do any of those things, so I send myself a message on my phone with a quick summary so I don’t forget what it was.
Maybe I’m at a friend’s house, or maybe I’m running some errands, or maybe I’m helping my dad build a 32m2 pergola at one of his clients’ property. It was on the 9th of February 2017, 2:14 pm that I sent myself this message:
A couple of weeks later I belatedly made that Word document with the summary in it and banged out a couple of passages for good measure. I then put it away again to continue working on the Clocks story I’ve been posting recently. I returned to this one the other day and finished up with several “chapters” of a sort, written in the form of diary entries from the protagonist and with a length of about 800 words give or take 200.
This left me in a bit of a conundrum. So far my posts have been approximately 1500 words each. I feel like that’s a good amount for a single short piece, and it’s a good amount for a chapter in a longer piece as well. So to post 800 word chunks seemed a bit stingy. But putting two together could become rather lengthy and might have a weird flow to it. I posed a question online as to which of three options I should try: a) make the passages longer, b) deal with it, and put two passages in a long post, or c) deal with it, and put one passage in a short post.
The response I got was to watch a particular episode of X-Files; specifically, season 3, episode 4, entitled “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (Nutter 1995). It dealt with a similar situation, I was told. Naturally I thought it curious that an episode of a TV show might deal with those three options so I went to watch it. How wrongly I misinterpreted. The episode was pretty much beat-for-beat the story I was writing, even down to the plot developments I had not yet put down to metaphorical paper.
Those familiar with the X-Files will probably know what it’s about already, but for those who aren’t: Mulder and Scully investigate a series of cases in which psychics, tarot card readers, and other alleged seers are murdered. They encounter one such individual who can foresee people’s deaths and who knows he will also become a target. Later, they discover that the killer himself has visions of his future-self committing the murders. Sounds a lot like my story idea, doesn’t it?
I will state here that I had never until this point watched an episode of X-Files, much less this one in particular. But the more I watched, the more I felt like my story was plagiarising this one. I couldn’t believe just how similar the two were. (As a side note, I have been informed of an episode of The Simpsons with a similar premise, stated to be parodying The Dead Zone novel (King 1979) or film (Cronenberg 1983), none of which I had seen or read before.) By the time the episode had concluded and the iconic title theme of the series played over the credits, I began to feel like its unsettling melody sung out not just for the episode’s events, but for my own.
But if I hadn’t seen this idea before, how was it possible for me to come up with so alike a story as this one? Such a thing isn’t unheard of, I suppose; Newton and Leibniz independently invented calculus, after all. Nevertheless, given the future-seer subject matter, it almost felt as if, rather than me unintentionally coming up with the same idea, that Darin Morgan had somehow seen the future where I had already written this story and plagiarised it 22 years in the past (I jest, of course. Please don’t take this as an actual allegation).
My brother, upon hearing this mysterious tale, oh-so-cheekily suggested I write about the meta-story instead: a story about a writer whose works keep getting plagiarised by an unscrupulous psychic in the past. I may just do that, if I can figure out how. In the meantime, I still haven’t received an answer to my original conundrum, but yet another presents itself in whether it is worth continuing my story, when the apparent original was so much better executed. And if such a universe came to exist where I never finish my story, would that episode of X-Files even have existed in the first place, or is it truly a coincidence?
I’ll end this thought piece with one of Mulder’s lines from the very same episode:
“If coincidences are just coincidences, why do they feel so contrived?”
“Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose.” X-Files. Writ. Darin Morgan. Dir. David Nutter. 20th Century Fox. 1995. DVD.
Francke, C. (1729). Portrait of Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716), German philosopher. [Oil on canvas] Braunschweig: Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum.
King, S. (1979). The dead zone. 1st ed. New York: Viking.
Kneller, G. and Bramley, B. (1992). Portrait of Isaac Newton. [Oil on canvas] Cambridge: Institute for Mathematical Sciences, University of Cambridge.
The Dead Zone. (1983). [film] US: David Cronenberg.
“Treehouse of Horror XV” The Simpsons. Writ. Bill Odenkirk. Dir. David Silverman. Film Roman. 2010. DVD.