Showing posts with label Telling Lies For Fun & Profit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Telling Lies For Fun & Profit. Show all posts

17 August 2015

Creative Plagiarism


by Jan Grape

Have you ever stolen a idea for a story or book from another writer? No. Of course not, that's plagiarism, you say. You are exactly right. However, we all know in reality there are only  thirty-six literary plots. Or maybe only twenty. Or perhaps only seven.
  1. Wo/man vs nature
  2. Wo/man vs wo/man
  3. Wo/man vs the environment 
  4. Wo/man vs machine/technology
  5. Wo/man vs the supernatural 
  6. Wo/man vs self
  7. Wo/man vs. God/religion
I could continue with twenty master plots like quest, adventure, pursuit, escape, revenge, love, sacrifice… but you all get the idea. Maybe it is true but writers and even readers know that it's the shading, the ins and outs, the grays bleeding into the black and white that we all turn to as we write. We read something that we consider good book or story and when we finish the story or book we sometimes say to our self, I like that story idea or plot and then we wonder how we might have written it.

Soon we play the "what-if" game. What if John Doe had done this and Jane Doe had done that?  What if the storm had happened earlier? What if Mr. Smith had not been murdered but Mrs. Smith was the one killed?  And the next thing you know, a whole different story is taking place in your mind. And guess what you're not stealing, but you're likely doing what the gifted writer and teacher, Lawrence Block calls "Creative Plagiarism" in his book TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT. And I've spoken those words, telling lies for fun and profit, many times and in classes or article writing give Mr. Block the credit although I have no idea if he was the first to coin the phrase.

I've tried to remember when a story inspired me so that I used some "creative plagiarism" to write a story.  I can only remember one instance although I imagine there could be more. The only similarity came when I read  a Bill Pronzini short story in an anthology. I can't tell you the story's name or the anthology or collection the story was in. I only remember there was a hit and run accident. And a hit and run accident was the only thing I used in my short story "The Man In The Red Flannel Suit."  That was a Christmas story published in an anthology titled SANTA CLUES. I do remember at the time my story idea was more or less going along with Bill's story, but by the time I got that idea inkling off the back burner it was entirely different from what I originally thought. The only thing left was the hit and run and that accident was altogether a different animal.

The only two other "creative plagiarism" stories came from songs. One song written and sung by Kenny Rogers called "Scarlett" and was about a young man falling in love with an exotic dancer. One night he goes into the club and Scarlett is gone. It breaks his heart because his fantasy was that she loved him. The nightclub people can't tell him where Scarlett has gone because dancers come and go, always looking for brighter lights. 

I couldn't get the song out of mind, well, I couldn't get Scarlett out of my mind. What happened to her? Did she leave and move to Houston? Dallas? Las Vegas? Was she kidnapped?  Was she murdered? 

Scarlett rattled around in my brain for two or three years and one day popped up as a short story, titled "Scarlett Fever" in the DEADLY ALLIES anthology. It's  still one of my favorite short stories. The other story inspired by a song is titled "The Confession." It was published in the MURDER HERE, MURDER THERE anthology. Since I personally knew the singer/songwriter, Thomas Michael Riley, he gave me permission to use as much or as little of the song as I wanted. It was a great "what if" idea.

If any if you have used any "Creative Plagiarism" ideas you may confess them to me. I won't tell anyone, I promise.