Monday, July 20, 2009

Chain: Stealing thunder

It's blog chain time again. Annie asked the question:
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?

Have you ever heard the joke: "What do you get when you play a country song backward?"
Answer: You get your wife back, your house back, your dog back, your kids back, you job back...
If you could copyright an idea, the creator of country-western music would have more money than Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Tiger Woods combined, and Hank Sr. and Johnny Cash would be duking it out at the pearly gates for ownership of the title.
Instead, their music has inspired pickers and grinners for generations. Judging by the content of the lyrics, it doesn't appear anyone is concerned about whose idea it was.
Most often, plagiarism is deliberate.
Writing from inspiration is putting down your interpretation of an event, a poem, a song, something found in everyday life...
Ever heard the expression: "One man's trash is another man's treasure?" Well, I think it applies here. Not everyone interprets their surroundings in the same way; not everyone will be inspired by the same things.
I believe those interpretations allow a writer to establish his/her voice.
I also believe, however, there is a danger in writing from the inspiration found in a news story, a real-life event, a song or poem, especially popular ones. You never want to regurgitate an old cliche UNLESS you have a fresh way of presenting it.
I've never had research step in the way of my originality. As artists, we're allowed to take some creative liberties (as long as it's within the realm of believability). Unfortunately, sometimes we have to adjust our characters and/or setting to fit into that realm.
It's best to be flexible.
Now, check out what Kate said before me, and then see what Christine has to say on Tuesday.


Kate Karyus Quinn said...

I love "one man's trash is another man's treasure" being applied to writing ideas!

And I agree that plagiarism (no matter what the people who get caught at it claim) is usually deliberate.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Kate - that is a wonderful quote. Now I really have to figure out what I am going to say...*runs off to start writing*

Cole Gibsen said...

Very well put! I'm with Christine - I'm not sure what I'll have to say about the subject! Maybe I should plagarize someone else's blog. Oh, the irony - HA!

Rosslyn Elliott said...

I agree with you, Kat. There are basic concepts and plots (boy loses girl) that will always inform our stories and cannot be called "plagiarism." When a real event/story/song is very specific and original, however, plagiarizing it can take the life out of the borrower's story.

Sandra said...

Flexibility is important, not just in writing, but in life itself.

gzusfreek said...

Well, those are some good thoughts :). . .I can learn from this.

Kat, my new blog address is

I always loved a country song backwards :p

Michelle McLean said...

very good post - I totally agree, and I love that country music joke :D You are right...I think someone actually has to try pretty hard to plagiarism...I just don't think it's possible to copy someone to the degree that it becomes plagiarism unless you know what you are doing.

TerriRainer said...

You made me think of a quote, "Truth is often stranger than fiction". If you are writing fantasy, that may not apply, but let's say you are NOT writing fantasy, often it would be a tad UNBELIEVABLE if you based certain things on your own reality. It wouldn't come across as "believable. Weird, huh?

Missed you Kat!

:) Terri

Annie Louden said...

What a great, succinct post! The country music example is great and reassuring to me.

Since I know what plagiarism is, and I know I don't do that, I'm beginning to realize that all my worries needn't be.

Sarah Bromley said...

Great post!

Reminds me of a story one of my college English professors told. A student brought her a paper, and she was amazed at the insight and great writing in the paper. About two pages into it, my professor realized why she liked the paper so much--it was an article she had written! The student plagiarized her own professor. Plagiarism = fail.