Beginning authors are haunted by the question: “Is my work original? Are you sure it’s not just a ripoff? What if someone tries to steal my work?” We obsess over where our ideas come from, and who we let read them. We worry that if we relate our plot to someone they’ll rewrite it into their own story, stealing our work.
I have good news! That’s never going to happen. Or rather, it will happen, but you don’t have to worry about it. Because it happens every day. We all do it, and no one cares. No one gets hurt. We create beautiful things and everyone is happy.
All creation is sub-creation. Nothing we make is ever truly, totally, and completely our own. Just like all the fanciest new toys and gadgets that come out of manufacturing can trace their origins back to the original minerals and chemicals found in the Earth, so every story can trace it’s way back to other stories, and they go back to other stories, and they like even more…
There’s a theory I’ve heard that all stories are part of one huge story, woven together like a complex tapestry. My theory is that it’s more like a big scrap yard. All the stories, the big ones, the little ones, the old and new ones, the brilliant and stupid ones, the successful and lame ones are all thrown into a heap together. Writers come through and browse along, marveling, laughing, groaning, nitpicking, eye-rolling, and scavenging. They grab a character here, a plot twist there. Here a setting, there a color, an irresistible phrase that just needs a better plot line…
They take all these things home with them and dump them on a workbench. They get out their tools and begin got tweak and reconstruct them, joining them together in new and surprising ways. They make new parts to mesh with the old, they discard some, and go hunting for new ones. They poke about until they find the right piece to fit into the little hole, and soon they have a complete story.
Maybe it’s brilliant. Maybe it’s lame. Maybe it’s the stupidest thing every written. But sooner or later it’s finished and it ends up in the scrap yard for other aspiring writers to go through and laugh and and choose pieces from.
I can still list my sources for some stories, specifically my current WIP. My main character is made up of three other characters: Ford Prefect (The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), Eugenides (The Queen’s Thief), and Shawn Spencer (Psych). My writing style is copied from Douglas Adams, Psych, ordinary comic books, and my own special variety of convoluted. I have aspects of Tron and Tangled. I can point out specific passages that are blatantly copied.
But it’s entirely mine. It’s not stolen. It’s not boring or copy-catty. If I didn’t point it out to you you’d never guess I was simply stealing parts from other books and stitching them together. So I stopped worrying about where I got my ideas from, and started helping myself.
So you see, dear writers, there is no such thing as plagarism. All the best stories are just stolen pieces from other stories, and they in turn will become future stories, and they’re all woven together into the big story salvage yard of life.