A good artist borrows, but a great artist steals, said Pablo Picasso and of course he was not suggesting plagiarism. Uniqueness is an interesting concept in the US culture. We mostly aspire to being special and unique provided such qualities are also socially valued. Booting up my 1996 mobile phone would make me unique, but I prefer the next-gen widget that soon everyone will have. Wearing a Leisure Suit to an interview is unique, but that form of specialness isn’t really what most of us are going for.
In writing, an argument can be made that every idea ever thought of has already been covered. This is true in terms of “themes” but still the human brain likes “familiar but different.” The complaints over story line overkill arise when we borrow an idea instead of stealing it. Borrowing is simply imitation–my characters with different names doing basically the same thing as the originator’s. When the only differentiator is a twist here or there, the art is not unique.
The goal, as Picasso suggested, is to outright steal the idea because then you truly make it your own. Richard Matheson “stole” the vampire idea from Bram Stoker, and made it his own. He created the “dead rise” apocalypse which George Romero then stole to create the first zombie apocalypse. Stolen ideas that resulted in unique works—not imitations. This is not plagiarism, but taking a concept and making something new—something unique. When the reader asks, “how do you come up with this stuff?” then you know you’ve done something right.
Unique is perhaps the most critical consideration for the writer. The “flavor of the day” is an important factor in writing the “stuff” readers want to read. When they start complaining that the world doesn’t need another zombie, vampire, love story, super-girl story it isn’t because the “idea” is less interesting—it’s because the imitations are poor. A fine line to walk, but one we must walk just the same.
There is a business investment argument that goes like this: If you’re the first person to market it means you either have a very unique idea…or others have discovered you can’t make any money at it. Writing is the same. Steal the ideas and themes people love, that they really want and then make them truly your own. Make them unique. Make it something everyone has read but that no one has ever read before.
Categories: A to Z Blog Challenge