Steal Another Writer’s Ideas

2016: A New Year, and the perfect time to steal another writer’s ideas and make them your own. Everybody does it. Quentin Tarantino freely admits theft of ideas when he says, “I steal from every single movie ever made.”

Theft is rampant. Embrace it. Use it.

An example, per Wikipedia:

Mithril is a metal found in many fantasy worlds. It was originally introduced by the fantasy writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, being present in his Middle-Earth.” Everybody who has used the term mithril after J.R.R. stole the idea.

Speaking of Fantasy’s acknowledged Master, Tolkien “stole” the concept of Orcs from previous writings and myths, specifically Beowulf and perhaps the writings of Giambattista Basile (1566-1632). Since Tolkien’s depiction of Orcs in The Hobbit (and more dramatically in The Lord of the Rings), many others have taken his ideas, notably the gaming industry, including Dungeons and Dragons, Warhammer, and World of Warcraft, the latter which bases much of its mythos on the Orc race. Many Orc-related books have also been written. I was reminded of this recently while following Goodreads’ “Sword and Sorcery, an earthier sort of fantasy” blog.

Be forewarned: I am not talking about plagiarism or copyright infringement—those bring with them possible jail time . . . unless, of course, you want unlimited writing time. Should you desire unlimited time to write (except when you’re looking over your shoulder for your new friend, Bubba), look up those two criminal acts and, well, act on them.

There is nothing new under the sun (or moon, for that matter). Everything has been done before, or at least a variation; there is nothing you can devise that has not already been thought about and implemented within the creative endeavor of writing. That truth should not deter you.

There exist only so many conflict types of stories.

Man versus Man (woman, alien, monster, etc.)
Man versus Self
Man versus Nature
Man versus Ideology and/or Authority
Man versus Society

Note: Some lists combine the last two (Ideology/Authority and Society), but here I separate them because a character can have a conflict with an ideology or authority (say, the church), but not with society as a whole.

The trick to legal theft within the creative writing process is to find an idea (remember, no original ideas exist) and put your own twist on it. How many stories have been written with the following premise: a girl from an affluent family falls in love with a boy hailing from a feuding family?

Romeo and Juliet leaps to mind, but there are dozens, if not hundreds, of others. As a side note, Shakespeare stole the idea from earlier writers.

Also from Wikipedia:

Romeo and Juliet belongs to a tradition of tragic romances stretching back to antiquity. The plot is based on an Italian tale translated into verse as The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet by Arthur Brooke in 1562, and retold in prose in Palace of Pleasure by William Painter in 1567. Shakespeare borrowed heavily from both, but expanded the plot by developing a number of supporting characters, particularly Mercutio and Paris. Believed to have been written between 1591 and 1595, the play was first published in a quarto version in 1597. The text of the first quarto version was of poor quality, however, and later editions corrected the text to conform more closely with Shakespeare’s original.”

Shakespeare, then, was a thief, stealing the story (and basically the title as well) from another who wrote the tale two years before the Bard’s birth. Of course, Shakespeare did a masterful job with his language and plot-twists, but that does not change the fact that he did, in fact, steal the idea.

You can do the same and perhaps, like Shakespeare, improve on the original. Just be careful not to “borrow” specifics: change names, events, settings, time periods, and come up with your own plotting tricks.

How?

Let’s look at Ernest Hemingway’s classic novella, The Old Man and the Sea, the story about a Cuban fisherman during a streak of horrible luck who finally catches a giant marlin in which an epic battle ensues.

A similar story idea might be something like this: A middle-aged to older knight, his better and braver days behind him, sets out to slay a fierce dragon and earn the respect of the people—something lost long ago which defines who he is.

It is the same plot, but the story’s elements (time, place, character’s occupation) have been changed, which in fact, makes it a new and different story—a story only you can write.

There is nothing wrong (either ethically or morally) with this sort of creative theft, as long as you heed the warnings and impart your own unique “branding” style and prose.

With that said,

See You on the Next Page,

Rick

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