Confession time: I pilfer the wealth of other writers’ words on a regular basis. I filch characters. I purloin themes. I steal plots. In other words, I am a big fat thief. And I want you to be one too.
Yeah, okay, so most of that was said tongue in cheek. Obviously, I don’t go around plagiarizing the works of others, not only because of the obvious moral reasons, but also because that would pretty much kill the whole challenge and joy I find in writing. But that doesn’t mean I don’t rifle every book I read and every movie I watch, looking for something shiny to walk off with. Some of the goods I’ve acquired include:
- A delicious new word. (My latest greatest, gleaned from Christopher Priest’s The Prestige: horripilation.)
- A fascinating setting. (The WWII-era China of Pearl Buck’s Dragon Seed found its way into a recent story idea.)
- An unforgettable theme. (The beautiful representation of self-sacrifice found in Jane Porter’s The Scottish Chiefs laid the groundwork for my A Man Called Outlaw.)
- A brilliant dramatization of character. (I’ll probably spend the rest of my life trying to imitate the success Orson Scott Card’s intricate scene between his main character and five children in Speaker for the Dead.)
- A distinctive method of dialogue. (The masterful manipulation of rhythm and phrasing to indicate dialect, without resorting to phonetic spellings, in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein will influence my own foreign-speaking characters.)
- A new plot idea. (Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife inspired me to revive a time-travel idea of my own.)
The artistic community is an unending circle of inspiration. Just as we light our own torches from the fires of other authors, our own ideas will throw sparks onto the tinder of others’ imaginations. This is one of the reasons it’s so important that we read widely and voraciously. Snag as many ideas as you can, and your own output will be the richer for it—thereby enabling you to then give back to the writing world. Like every good little pickpocket, keep your eyes trained for the next fat purse of inspiration and don’t be afraid to grab it and run!
Tell me your opinion: What have you stolen lately?
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