Let’s face it; nothing is original. Stories have been passed along in one form or another for centuries. Early stories were passed down orally, from one generation to another. At some point new ideas were regurgitated old ideas, in the same way that movies seem to all be variations on a theme.
What’s a writer to do?
Accept that the word *unique* won’t apply to your story; nonetheless you can present a story in a way that has the benefit of not being done before. This is because your stories and your characters are yours. Who can complain about that?
Offer me fun characters and a solid tale and I will get caught up in the book and forget that it might be like this book, or that book, or reminds me of a short story I once read at school.
So perhaps it is not about uniqueness as much as it is about freshness, interesting presentations, unexpected turns and twists.
Screenwriters face this challenge. Having created a masterful story, they must pitch it to producers, people too busy to devote much thought. Making it a quick visual, the writer will often compare the story to movies that have been made before. “It’s like Titanic meets Term of Endearment,” he might say, evoking the huge tragedy with a personal loss so that the producer can quickly decide whether the idea has merit.
Book readers for publishers are the same. With lots of manuscripts coming in, a reader, usually not paid a whole lot to care, must get through one pile before the next pile comes in. The reader won’t compare your story to something else; instead, he reads the beginning and if you have done your job right, he has the urge to turn the page. If not, your hard work is summarily rejected and the reader moves on to the next manuscript on on the pile.
On of the mistakes new writers make is languishing in their opening. No one cares how pretty the sunset is, unless it is toxic and immediately kills the main character. No one cares if she woke up, her hair a mess and her makeup smeared, unless there is some relevance to the plot in a string enough manner to incite the reader to turn the page.
In screenwriting there is an old saying. If there is a gun on the wall, someone needs to use it by the third act. In other words, don’t tell me about the gun if it is just ornamental with no relevance to the plot.
After lots of time and effort, you manage to sell your book. Happily, the feedback never mentions the similarity to another book. Readers liked it and sales are good.
And yet somewhere, another writer starting out, having seen your book, is put off by the thought that you wrote a unique book, and anything they might do will be compared to your book. Exactly how you felt.
Write well. Do your best. Offer the reader a tight plot, solid characters and well paced and you will be fine.