T is for Thief. There’s no such thing as an original idea.

We're all guilty of being influenced by the ideas of others.
We’re all guilty of being influenced by the ideas of others.

“It’s not where you take things from . . . it’s where you take them to.”

The above is a quote from ground-breaking French  film maker, Jean-Luc Godard.

Godard wasn’t afraid to take influences from his favourite works – be that in film, literature or music – and put them in to his own work. He was supremely confident that his unique creative voice would ensure that what he produced would be just as powerful as the original – sometimes more so – because he had taken it in a new direction or put a different spin on things.

As creatives we can spend too much of our time fretting over whether our work is too derivative of something else. Once you accept that there really are only so many stories you can tell, you can focus all of your creative energies on ensuring you bring your own personality and viewpoint to an idea.

Is it original?

You only have to look at a genre like Horror to see that despite a relatively small number of set situations and creatures (werewolves, zombies, vampires etc, etc) there are millions of different stories out there and new sub-genres are being created all the time.

Often, it’s more about using a genre to tell the story or explore the themes you are interested in – as Sci-Fi was used in 1950’s America to reflect the growing threat of The Cold War.

Get personal

Steven Spielberg famously wanted to tell a story about how the divorce of his parents affected him as a child. This resulted in what he describes as his most personal film – E.T – the Extra Terrestrial! There have been scores of films about aliens visiting from another planet – and yet Spielberg’s film seems fresh and original because he has focused on telling the story from his very personal standpoint.

As writers we should do the same. Go out there, absorb all these fantastic influences of film, music, literature and culture and create something new.

Become a thief and your work will be all the better for it.

Do you worry about being derivative? What influences your work and what stories are you interested in telling?

This was my 20th post for the A-Z Blog Challenge. Follow the blog during April for more writing tips, inspirational life posts, short fiction, film-inspired articles and more songs with audio recordings. Next post – U is for Uncommon Courtesy, a rant.

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13 thoughts on “T is for Thief. There’s no such thing as an original idea.

  1. That’s such a great quote because its absolutely true. Every idea is inspired from as little as one to as many as thousands of ideas that were, themselves, most likely unoriginal. I think a lot of writers are worried about not having an original idea, but originality comes through the interpretation of the work.

    1. Yes, indeed Sarah. With really great artists, writers or film makers it’s often difficult to believe what their starting point actually was. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Very much agree, it’s all about perspective. Many of the greater works have been inspired by previous works, Huxley’s Brave new World inspired by Plato, Kundera’s Unbearable lightness of Being has many references to Anna Karenina.

    Had a discussion with someone about the ”no original ideas” the other day and she pointed out how in the past in visual arts it was common as an apprentice to copy the great masters, and that from that an individual style developed….

    1. That’s a good point about artists, and it’s also true of musicians and bands. Most great bands began their careers trying to emulating their heroes. Often, in failing in their quest to copy their idols, they ended up creating their own unique style.

  3. I worry about being too derivative, and I do believe it’s possible to steal a specific idea. You don’t steal the plot of kids disliking the divorce of their parents, but a particular line or speech about it? Or if a Fantasy novel was about needing to throw the magic ring of evil into a distant volcano, people would be right to lift an eyebrow at your work.

    The biggest, at least as I’ve observed so far, as having several influences. It’s funny to compare, but in Japanese pro wrestling the teachers instruct students to study and emulate at least three famous wrestlers, and never emulate only one of them. By combining the influences they create a familiar character that is not too similar so as to be deemed redundant by audiences. It’s basic, but I always liked that as the starting approach to art. If you mix enough influences you tend to create your own whole.

    1. The Japanese wrestling thing is interesting, and that is also another approach that I’ve seen before – blending several different influences to create something new. Quentin Tarantino is the master of this.

      By the way . . . You mean to say the whole ‘Ring of power’ thing has been done before?! *rips up manuscript and throws it on the fire*

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