Every writer has had it. That moment when you open a book, or switch on the TV, or sit down in the cinema, and there it is. Your idea, by someone else.
The first time this happened to me – or at least, the first time that I can really remember – was when I was reading Terry Pratchett’s Thief of Time. I had an idea for a character in my story The Shadows (the sequel to Spider Circus, which I’ve been working on in one form or another since I was fourteen – this story could have done its GCSEs by now). This character wasn’t quite human, everything about her behaviour was a little odd, and she was never seen to eat and drink. When I read about Myria LeJean/Unity, I remember scribbling an angry sentence next to the character description in my notebook, something along the lines of “Except I can’t USE her now, THANKS TERRY!”
Of course, I hadn’t realised at that point that there are hundreds of characters like this in fiction (from fairytale monsters right up to the Cullens). In the years since then, I’ve learned that, once you’re over the initial shock, seeing Your Idea somewhere else is sometimes a gift. It can get you away from your first thoughts, into your second, third or fourth, which can take you, the characters, and the story into new and interesting places.
That particular character didn’t survive my reading of Thief of Time, but she probably wouldn’t have survived the many, many rewrites that these past sixteen years have involved, either. Reading and writing are both ways of exploring imaginary worlds, and although you might stumble upon a path someone has walked before, you’ll see it in a different way to anyone else.