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  • By Kara Newcastle

Writing Wednesday: Doesn’t Matter Where You Get Your Inspiration, As Long s You Come Home for Dinner

Writing Wednesday: Doesn’t Matter Where You Get Your Inspiration, As Long s You Come Home for Dinner

Man Writing a Letter by Gabriel Metsu

Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. –Jim Jarmusch

In the Top Five Most Frequently Asked Question Posted to Writers, “Where do you get your ideas?” usually ranks first or second. When I was fifteen or so and really getting into writing, I squirmed when the question was asked, but now I tell everybody: I get it from where ever I can, and that’s usually from other people’s works.

No, it’s not plagiarism, though for a little while I used to wonder if it was. I was afraid to tell people that I’d get my ideas from books and movies and things like that, because I thought that meant I wasn’t original as a writer. Then I found out that just about everybody and their grandma steals their ideas from somebody else. People are inspired by, steal and recycle ideas all the time.

No, I’m serious! Look, remember the movie Clueless? That’s just a modern update of Emma. Dietland was inspired by Fight Club. The Lion King is Hamlet. James Joyce’s Ulysses and Oh Brother, Where Art Thou were inspired by The Odyssey. Bram Stoker was heavily inspired by Sheridan Le Fanu’s story “Camilla” when he was writing Dracula. West Side Story is Romeo and Juliet, which Shakespeare himself stole from the poem The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet. And that’s just for starters!

Honestly, a vast majority of my characters and story ideas have been inspired by other people’s books, TV shows, movies and mythology. My idea for the demon hunter Savannah Rain came from a Buffy the Vampire Slayer guide that featured a picture of an actual demon hunter’s field kit, and I got the idea for Savannah’s ancestor Fiona Rain while watching Seven Sovereigns for Sarah, a movie about the Salem witch trials. Noel Ruthven was a fan character for X-files, Awen was a fan character for Gargoyles, and I got the idea for the knight Faustine while watching Willow. And as I’ve stated before, my 1996 version of Nike was just mostly a collection of rewritten Xena, Warrior Princess episodes. Oh, and I got an idea for a short story about a mermaid while watching the Ghost Adventures episode about Poveglia while simultaneously reading books about mermaids. And there's more where that came from.

So, a lot of my work has been inspired by other’s people work. Am I embarrassed by that? Hell no! I’ve come up with some great ideas that way, if I do say so myself. What would be embarrassing would be if I directly plagiarized the other person’s work, i.e. took the plot of The Matrix and changed a few details, like names but generally kept everything the same (oh, and The Matrix was inspired in part by the anime Ghost in the Shell, dontchya know.)

And you don’t have to get your ideas just from books and TV. It could be a painting, a talk show, a poem, a song, a cartoon, comic book, a character, whatever—anything that lights that creative spark in you is good, just so long as you make the idea yours. And if you’re still unsure, check out Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon … the whole book is about how you can get your inspirations, and why it’s perfectly okay to draw on other works for help.

You’re not a hack. Go write.

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