I try to be relatively polite on this website. This article is an exception. You have been warned.
Some awful concepts are so thoroughly and widely accepted (and presented) as fact that they may seem like they are actually true. One of these is an extremely sad, depressing view of the creative process. One that is a) wrong and b) harmful to new writers.
Since the dogma is so ground into society that people believe it on blind faith, lets suffer through the cliché. “There is nothing new under the sun”. It is often buoyed up by suggestions that you steal ideas because nothing is new, (I’ll scream later) and such hopelessly limited views about how many plots there are in the universe.
Lets tackle each aspect. First the meta problem. Here is the conversation I imagine having when faced by such ignorance. In truth, in person, I would be nice enough to walk away and not say anything before I shred someone to pieces. But this is what I would be thinking.
Nothing new eh? So in 1984 when Steve Jobs demoed the Apple Macintosh that wasn’t new? Are you stoned? That was the dawn of a new age of technology. We had been building up to it with the awesome concept of the mouse and Tim Berners Lee was working up to being the master behind the world wide web. Do you have something against new mediums? The hyperlink has changed everything. I would call that new.
Oh you’re only referring to fiction? You’re still wrong. How do I know? Because our world keeps changing rather like this whole new fangled computer thing. Thus there are always more stories to tell. Maybe if we never got past the abacas (the first computer) I would understand a certain degree of cynicism. But for fucks sake (and you may note I don’t usually swear much) get over this idea that just because you can’t imagine or see anything new doesn’t mean the rest of us are stuck in that position.
How sad it must be to see such a rich, incredible, multi-faceted world and miss the beauty, the nuance, the potential. Screw the shades of gray, give me the whole box of crayons. The big one. We will never know everything there is to know about being human, because - and here is the really incredible thing - despite the fact our brains are little changed from at least six thousand years ago, what it means to be human never stops evolving. How cool is that!
Fiction is about the human experience. And I can guarantee you, my view looks very different from someone who tries to tell me there is nothing new just because most bikers tend to wear leather thus almost all bikers on TV share the convention. There is a reason for it by the way. It is called protection. Have you ever scooted your arse along pavement in jeans? Do you want to? I don’t think so.
Yeah there are some similarities that will naturally occur no matter how fleshed out you make your characters. Just like people. If I had to fight really hard I could come up with something that I have in common with Dick Cheney... okay I only have that we are both white. But you get my point.
That’s one of the wonderful, mysterious things about people. We all carry around a personal culture that has aspects in common with others but we are each unique and I don’t mean that in an “I’m special”, Mr. Rogers way. The fact we can communicate at all is incredible and is the reason I studied it in college.
If you think your work sounds like someone else's maybe you haven’t written your way through the copycat phase and gotten to the original content. If you have broken through and are so limited that you honestly believe that having a few elements in common with another writer is bad, please go have your head examined. Your self esteem sucks.
On this vein you can easily see what I might say about assertions that there are x number of plots. Please go read my article on plot and pull your head out of your arse. All you need are full rich characters and you will have a unique plot.
Which brings me to stealing. Inspiration is not the same thing as repackaging someone else's idea. The former is a compliment, the latter is akin to graveyard robbery. It’s just icky.
If I see a story about a werewolf and am inspired to write a story about a were-cat as a result I can guarantee you what I produce would be different. That is not stealing. That is sparking. For example, say the source was a scary movie. But I liked the idea of lycanthropes and decided, well what if the were-beast was a good guy? Or what if the werewolf could be saved some how? We have one seed in common and that’s it.
If you feel you need to steal someone else's idea because you have given up finding one of your own please close up your computer and give up until the urge passes.
Again, maybe you find you keep having subconscious rip-offs and think this must be normal. It is, if you haven’t had enough practice; if you haven’t matured as an artist, if you are not yet ready. But once you find your own voice you will leave copying in the dirt. It is an insult to the art to give up and assume you’ve reached your potential when you haven't. And if you feel you need to steal to create, trust me, you haven't.
You may now return to the more supportive words you are used to.