Monday, July 20, 2009
The always awesome Annie asked the question for the blog chain this time around.
Do you ever get inspired by a real-life event or news story and fear you're ripping off the story too much? Do you ever get inspired by a song or poem or line from a book and worry you're stealing that original person's idea? What if your research is overtaking your originality?
Wow. Big questions. Let me break these down a little bit.
Do you ever get inspired by a real-life event or news story and fear you're ripping off the story too much?
Yes, I have been inspired by real-life events or news story, although I've never made them the central focus of a story. I think if they were at the center of the story I would be worried about making sure I put my own original spin on them. Then again look at Law & Order (and all of its spin-offs too, of course). Ripped from the headline plots are their specialty, sometimes they'll even toss a couple of them together. Some of these I find eye-rollingly bad, (Especially when they get all political and preachy. Um, could you just shut-up and catch, then convict the bad guy already?) but I never find them lacking in creativity.
Do you ever get inspired by a song or poem or line from a book and worry you're stealing that original person's idea?
I don't think you can steal someone else's idea. An idea is elusive, intangible, and impossible to capture. Even if you tried to steal someone's idea, I think it would inevitably become tangled up with your own ideas and emerge on paper completely different than the idea that was taken.
Now words are another matter. Those can and have been stolen. However, if you are only using someone else's words as a jumping off point, and not trying to pass them of as your own, then I don't believe you have stolen anything.
What if your research is overtaking your originality?
Of all the questions this one resonated with me the most. As you may remember a few chains back our question was about research, and I confessed that I was not such a big fan of it. And I think one of the reasons I feel this way is that I do fear my originality and own vision could be easily squashed beneath a pile of hard-edged and weighty facts.
Perhaps this is a confidence issue (that was also a chain topic btw), and I might be able, with practice, to find my voice alongside facts. And I know it's possible, especially when I read books by writers like Jon Krakauer and Michael Pollan. They write non-fiction books that should be terribly dry, and instead make them not only interesting, but personal as well.
That's it for the questions, but I have one more thing to add to this topic. Just yesterday I happened to read a blog post over at Help! I NEED a Publisher... and Maybe an Agent? that just coincidentally enough is on this same subject of copying.
The blog is written by Scottish author, Nicola Morgan, and towards the end of this post she relates a story about a coincidence that occurred during the release of her first novel. Basically, her novel had a main character with the same name, age, and rare health condition as another more well known author's book that was being released around the same time.
However, she goes on to add that ever other bit of their stories had absolutely nothing in common at all, which kind of goes back to what I said before about not being able to steal an idea.
In the end your own originality - whether that means your own peculiar way of arranging words within a sentence, your skewed view of the universe, or whatever else it is that marks a work as being uniquely your own little snowflake - is going to come through.
Or that's what I think at least. But what do you think? Are we sometimes not as original as we could be in our writing? And how much can we borrow from other writers before it becomes stealing?
And don't forget to check out Kat's blog, she'll have the next chain post on this topic!