Sunday, March 27, 2011

Idea Garage Sale: Tribute

Several years ago, I had an idea for a story, and my first thought about it was: "That's a Diana Wynne Jones idea. She should write it."

But she didn't have the idea, I did. So I did my best. I played with it, and plotted it, and wrote on it, and stopped on it, and had a Year from Hell, and recovered, and reread it, and at some point it stopped being the "Diana Wynne Jones book" in my head, and became my book. Once that happened, I was finally able to revise it to the point that Damon could vet the magic system for me. Then I revised it some more and started it on the thankless round of rejection it's been on since. It is a good book, which is no guarantee of publication, and a book with a similar premise recently appeared on the Publisher's Marketplace deal list, which doesn't affect the core fact that I did in fact write it and it is in fact good.

Not as good as if Diana Wynne Jones had written it. But of what is that not true?

One of the things about books is, that when we read them, we have ideas. This is true regardless of the quality of the book. Agatha Christie set out to prove she could write a better mystery than somebody else, and it turned out she could. "Ellery Queen" was invented because his components hated Philo Vance. People discover their own ideas lurking in fairy stories all the time. How many domestic novels have their roots in Little Women? How many campaign maps for how many gaming worlds are the direct offspring of The Lord of the Rings?

I used to scorn this sort of thing as "copying," but I still did it. So do you. So, if I'm to believe Fire and Hemlock, did Diana Wynne Jones. If you copy well enough, it stops being imitation and becomes influence. Inspiration. You write your way out the other side and become yourself.

Do it well. Do it poorly. Do it till you own it.


  1. I have my share of problems with writing, but at least I understood early on that everyone "copies" from everyone else.

  2. Once you get it into your head that being original consists of saying exactly what you want to say, and telling the truth as clearly as you can, you can stop second-guessing yourself and judging others so harshly. It always annoys me to see Shakespear described as a plagiarist, just because he drew his plots from any and everywhere. Who doesn't?