Where do you get your ideas? It’s a common question and my answer tends to stun people, if only for its honesty. I steal them.
I don’t plagiarize. That would be wrong. But I seriously doubt that I could tell a truly original story if I tried. It’s not that I lack faith in my abilities, but rather that I simply don’t think there are any truly original stories to tell.
Every story I develop in the future is, on some level, based on one or more stories I have read, heard or seen throughout my life. And I’m okay with that, because what makes my story mine and not those is me, my unique spin on the age-old tales.
I was in a screenwriting workshop years ago and the instructor had us do an exercise where we all watched the same scene from the movie After Hours (a brilliant piece of psychotic filmmaking if ever there was one). When the scene was over—maybe 3 minutes of Griffen Dunne and Rosana Arquette in a coffee shop at night—he had each of us write what happened next.
When we read our scenes to the class what we quickly discovered was that we had 8 different movies, one from each workshopper. Eight people working from the same starting point, 8 movies.
Everybody steals. Always have.
Shakespeare stole his plotlines. Romeo & Juliet was a total rip-off of West Side Story.
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Finding Nemo? Same lead character name and they were underwater.
These are not coincidences, my friends.
So cut yourself some slack. You will bring something of yourself to your re-interpretation of other stories and you will mix and match them in ways that no one else would.
Hell, Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh and Mel Gibson each filmed Hamlet and none of them truly matches the play that Shakespeare wrote. They may be the same starting point, but they are not the same movie. (The links are all to the To Be or Not To Be speech)
And if you’ve given your work to someone else to critique, and the first thing they give back to you is “This is a little too much like…”, STOP READING THEIR ADVICE because most of the rest of it is likely ill-conceived or just plain stupid.
Other people have taken photos of bees on flowers, but no one took the photo I took of that particular bee on that particular flower.
If you wrote a story when you were 20 and then wrote a story with the same plot when you were 40, I can pretty much guarantee that those would end up being two very different stories.
So relax. Tell your story, no matter where it comes from. Because in the end, you will make it your story.
PS. If you want a great book that further proves this point, check out Peter Desberg and Jeffrey Davis’s Show Me The Funny. More on this book in a future post.
PPS. After Hours was a rip-off–sorry, modern day interpretation–of Homer’s The Odyssey, which was also the premise of Oh Brother, Where Are’t Thou.