Monday, February 15

A Fresh Idea - or Sheer Laziness?

While I was slowly being covered in a record 70" of snow this past week, I burned through a huge stack of books. One that stuck out was After the Workshop by John McNally. First of all, it is wonderful and funny, and a great behind-the-scenes peek at writers. But the reason I'm blogging is because of what one of his characters did. This guy was a bestselling author - but all he did was take great works and reimagine them. He had a notebook full of two line ideas like "Moby Dick - but set in the suburbs and with a poorly trained dog instead of a whale" and "The Old Man and the Sea, but set in Iowa and on a tractor instead of a boat". Strangely enough, nobody in the publishing world (except our hero) figured out what he was doing.

At first it made me laugh uproariously. But about two seconds later, I realized it probably happens all the time. I don't mean the blatant take offs such as Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, but someone who starts with a classic fairy tale, or even a parable, and goes from there. I'll admit there are times when I'm watching a movie, or reading a book blurb and think wow, I could spin that this way instead..... I haven't yet, but I can see how easily it could happen. And that made me wonder; does it count as a wholly fresh idea, or should it be discounted as sheer laziness bordering on minor plagiarism? Haven't decided yet - but since I haven't decided, I'm sure not going to indulge in it! What do you think?

7 comments:

  1. I think there are very few truly fresh ideas. Think about it, someone came up with the first vampire story and now there are hundreds of them. Though the story may be unique, the idea usually isn't.

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  2. That's like the old "there are only (insert number here)plots." It is interesting, though. Have you ever watched an old movie and then later seen some of the scenes from it in a newer movie? At least we as writers can't be quite THAT blatant; it's illegal!

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  3. You make a good point, but I agree with Shawn and Liz. There are truly fresh and unique ideas and then there are our takes on them. I get ideas all the time while watching movies or television shows. Usually not from the main plot, but something will happen and my brain starts wondering what would happen if I used a scenario like the one in Scene B and took it in a different direction.

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  4. I agree with Shawn here. Even my beloved AVATAR is a happier version of Pocohontas - either in real life or the Disney movie. The Twilight series is Romeo and Juliet all over again. (even though I loved it!) Usually when you watch a movie or TV show you can glean what plot/type/past idea it's brought to life. BONES is a "buddy movie" with the twist of having her a woman - same with CASTLE. The CSI casts are all identical in their roles. It's true you can put a new twist on it - eg. BONES, but at heart it's a tried and true idea. That's why Christopher Vogel's Hero's Journey resonates with us. It's mythical but also lays out a natural progression most humans go through when they face a quest or obstacle. We deny it, we answer the call to action, we encounter mentors/friends/enemies along the way of life. My point is, I don't think you're being lazy, Christi! I think a writers gift is to take a universal theme and write a story around it that allows the reader to live it out vicariously.

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  5. I do it all the time, Christi. Imagine how I could have done the same story differently, I mean. But I have so many of my own ideas churning, I won't live long enough to write them all!

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  6. they always said louis l'amour or max brand (i forget which) used to write that way...he'd read the first 3 chapters of someone's book, figure out how he'd take it from there, write it, then go back and change the first 3 chapters to make it his own...

    =)

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  7. I have a daughter who is a big Shakespeare reader and more. Frequently when she watches movies she comments on the ties with classic literature. I say it's a great idea ... as long as it's done well!

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