Can I get away with this similarity?

Ed_in_Bed

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Hello

I'm working on a detective/mystery novel which is part set in the 1990s and part set in the Great War. Anyway, the research/plotting is going well (quite enjoying it actually), but whenever I read or watch a First World War themed book or film, I keep discovering similarities in plot! I don't know if it's subconcious and that I don't remember seeing/reading that plot element beforehand, or just plain coincidence. Anyway, in your opinion, is the following too close for comfort?

In my plot, I have two friends based in Sheffield (UK) just prior to the outbreak of the Great War. In the story, the've established a scam (in Sheffield) to make a little money. One of the friends conducts the scam, the other keeps watch for the local bobby. If he sees the policeman approach, he gives three short blasts on his whistle, and the other one scampers off.

Later in the story, when one of them is lying out injured in a shell crater in No Man's Land and knowing that his friend is looking for him but unable to find him, he takes the trench whistle from the body of a dead officer and does the three short blasts thing again.

Well, that was the plan until I watched 'War Horse' last night!

If you've seen the film, do you think it's too close to Albert doing his owl call thing to find Joey the horse?

Thanks!

Ed.
 

angeliz2k

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I have seen War Horse, but it's been long enough that I don't remember it well. But Joey doing an owl call to summon a horse doesn't seem all that similar to one friend summoning the other with a whistle. Similar idea, but quite different in practice, I think. Maybe others remember that scene better and can comment, or have a different opinion.
 

Chris P

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I had some vague recollection of that, but I didn't connect it to that film until you mentioned it. I was watching it for the tank, but that's just me.

I wouldn't worry about it. Run with that scene, and make it your own.

I too am working (okay, it's been stalled for literally years) on a Great War novel, and there is a fine line to be drawn between meeting the readers' expectations of what a Great War novel would contain, and not simply retelling All Quiet on the Western Front. Hence the convergence on the plot elements. Even a fairly specific scene such as you describe would be a common enough occurrence that with your own spin on it I don't think it would cause a problem.
 

Thecla

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I've not seen 'War Horse' but the general idea of two friends establishing a signal under one set of conditions then using in another is an old one that wasn't used in fiction for the first time by Morpurgo. Sutcliff uses it in 'Eagle of the Ninth', I think, and I'm sure I've encountered it elsewhere as well. An owl's call seems familiar too... Doesn't that get used in 'The Hobbit'?

You're almost certainly fine. Were either man a horse, it might be otherwise!
 

stephenf

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If it is copyright your thinking about . Book titles , ideas , themes , plot lines , stock characters and generic locations are not subject copyright. The main reason books fail is a lack of originality . Truly original is possibly impossible and probably not totally desirable . In other words , you have a lot of room to move it .
 
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frimble3

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I think you're fine, that's the kind of thing that officers were issued with whistles for (aside from sending men 'over the top' to their deaths).
 

Ed_in_Bed

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Thanks, all, for your replies - sounds like I'll be OK to keep it in. Phew! :0)
 

Chris P

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Just a more minor point, but I think the three short blasts is a fairly universal distress signal, so one character would not necessarily know it was his friend blowing the whistle. Perhaps having some notes from a nursery rhyme/children's song that could be the pattern?
 
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Ed_in_Bed

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Just a more minor point, but I think the three short blasts is a fairly universal distress signal, so one character would not necessarily know it was his friend blowing the whistle. Perhaps having some notes from a nursery rhyme/children's song that could be the pattern?
Good point, thanks Chris!
 
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Svala Bjornsdottir

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Just a more minor point, but I think the three short blasts is a fairly universal distress signal, so one character would not necessarily know it was his friend blowing the whistle. Perhaps having some notes from a nursery rhyme/children's song that could be the pattern?
Was just lurking and saw this... this is why I love this writing group, that is pure gold on so many levels!
 
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Jazz Club

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I think it sounds different enough to be fine. And that's such a sweet idea, needing help and using the old signal to let his friend know where he is. I'm imagining it now...might have something in my eye...
 
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Unimportant

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If the Hunger Games can get away with it, so can you.
 

mpf004

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I recently rewatched Almost Famous, a fantastic almost perfect movie. In one scene, Mom tells teenage William that if he gets in trouble, to use the family whistle. (she doesn't have to demonstrate it for the audience, because William knows it)

Hours later, when he's running late to be picked up by Mom, we hear a three-note toot in the background. It's LONG-shortLONG. Distinctive, and we get what it means. Maybe something like that, where it won't get confused for a SOS in Morse code. (Of course now you're cribbing from Cameron Crowe but that's a damn good writer to crib from)
 

Unimportant

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I can't believe no one has yet mentioned The Sound of Music, where Captain von Trapp has a different whistle call for each of his eleventybillion children, and Maria the governess-nun is all Oh Hell To The No, I ain't answering to no dog whistle.

(Now I'll be yodeling about the lonely goatherd for the rest of the day....)
 
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frimble3

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How about using a fox hunting-horn call on the whistle? 'Going Home' to signal the end of the hunt is 'two short and a long and wavering'.
Might that or something similar work?
Certainly would work for their 'life of crime', as a signal that the jig's up, time to scram.