Saturday, February 20, 2010

You don't need to steal. I will give them to you.

Someone is, yet again, suing J.K. Rowling for plagiarism. Making Light has a great post on the subject. (Seriously. Read the whole thing. Think about it. I'll still be here when you come back. Well, I won't be. But this entry will. You get my point.)

What really struck a chord with me was Item 2 on Teresa's list of "What these lawsuits teach us:"

"2. Non-writers think it's the ideas, rather than the execution, that make a book. They've got that backward."

So. Very. True.

Writers so often get asked, "where do you get your ideas from?" that the question has become a cliché. I think the question gets asked because we admire, and perhaps covet, the ability to imagine, to think differently, to create a story that wasn't there before. It seems like some sort of magic, the using of words to build a world.

I know that when I began writing, one of my biggest fears was that I would run out of ideas. I hoarded them like a dragon hoards gold, keeping them tucked away in the dark. I stopped writing fiction completely between getting accepted to Clarion and showing up on campus because I was terrified that my inability to think of an idea for each week's story would mark me out as a fraud.


Of the six ideas that I had sketched out in notebooks, only two of them became stories there, at least in their original form. (I learned very quickly that having an idea was the easy part, that the putting the idea into story-shaped form on paper was where the work came in.) And of those two, I can tell you exactly where they came from. They were stolen.

My week one story was called "Mother Love." It was Beowulf, from the perspective of Grendel's Mom. Totally stolen idea. The other was my entry into our fool your friends flash fiction contest, "Dead Man's Party." I was out running, and "Dancing With Myself" came on the iPod. There's a line in there - "Your empty eyes seem to pass me by" - and when I heard it, I thought, oh, yes. Zombies love '80s dance music. And okay, maybe that one wasn't so much stolen as "inspired by" but you get my point. I took part of someone else's idea, and made something with it.

We do not create in a void. We are the sum of our experiences and our ideas come from those experiences. More importantly, what we do with those ideas comes from our experiences as well. Having an idea doesn't make for a unique story. The execution of that idea does. For example: Two people, a teenage girl and a male vampire. In love. Afraid to consummate their love because of the consequences. Buffy and Angel or Bella and Edward?

Learn to experience things as only you can, and then you will tell the stories that only you can tell.