Steal with Good Judgement
It’s a sign of how my week’s been so far that I’m just now getting around to writing this post that I had planned out a few weeks ago (don’t ask why I didn’t write it right away — writer’s love to procrastinate). Anyways, I’m a few weeks into my senior year and this week I am working through auditions for the show I am directing (Arms and the Man by Shaw) so I’ve been consumed with that the past few days.
So, in the spirit of the technical side of theatre, here comes the quote for this week:
About the most originality that any writer can hope to achieve honestly is to steal with good judgement.
– Josh Billings
There’s this weird notion that floats around that an idea can be original. I call bullshit. Most of what we create is a spin off of something we have been exposed to before. It is almost impossible to create something without drawing inspiration from something else — which is why it irritates me when I hear people say they dislike something because it reminds them of something else they know. When you break anything down enough, it can be related to hundreds of other things (I’m talking stories, paintings, music, etc; not just concerning writing).
Everything has an influence.
Originality comes into play with the spins we can put on those unoriginal seeds. Theatre is a perfect example of this. We take existing ideas and twist them around to fit our purposes. And I don’t mean in the sense that we steal a set design or music soundtrack, but we pull little hints of things, like the shape of a doorway or a lighting effect, and make it our own to further the vision of the show.
And writers do the same thing. Writers pick up phrases, sentence constructions, minor plot points, a character’s quirk, and all those other little things, that shape us as writers.
Writers are generally also strong readers. It would be ridiculous to expect someone who reads as much as they write to never try their hand at something they had read in one of their books. It would be like asking a scientist to never repeat experiments. Because that’s what writers are doing: they’re experimenting with a new way of writing, or a new storyline, or or or. There are a hundred different things that can fill in that list.
So, the next time you see a really good idea, experiment with it. Like, this character is a magical being that they hadn’t know/believed existed before and they are plunged into the world of fantasy — that’s Harry Potter, The Mortal Instruments, The Sword of Truth, etc. keep filling in that list. There are so many ways to spin a story.
Just be sure to spin that good idea into a great idea.