Monday, November 26, 2018

Literary Theft – The Value of Reinventing for Writers

by Ane Mulligan @AneMulligan

I read an article on literary theft, and in it, the author said, “Don’t steal ... reinvent.” Then on Friday, Nov 8th, Marcia Moston posted “Steal Like an Artist.” Marcia’s post was focused on learning from others. This post is from a different perspective. 

Since all of us get inspired by stories, characters, and the worlds they live in, let’s tap into those gems – make them ours. The value in literary theft is knowing what to steal and then how to do it. 

Here are a few tips I’ve picked from the pockets of the best: 

1. Character Careers: Unless you write suspense where your character has to be a member of law enforcement, try to find an unusual career for your character. It might even open up some good plot points and enhance the conflict. 

I write women’s fiction and romance. I’ve used up most of the normal occupations, and I’m trying to vary those from the typical to something different...say for instance, a coral doctor. Well, someone has studied the health of the ocean’s coral; it’s endangered, or at least against the law to harvest it. But it hasn’t always been. So who decided that? And would that “doctor” be an oceanographer? An ichthyologist? Or a veterinarian? 

Anyway, since there’s no copyright on character careers, go ahead and borrow it or one from another writer. Just add your own twist to it, and while you’re at it, start a file on any others you happen to read or hear about. 

2. Character Names: Keep a file on names you hear or read that you find unusual or particularly different. Have you ever had a co-worker whose name intrigued you? I have a friend whose name is Glenice. It’s a combination of her parents’ names. Combining names or parts of names is a super way to come up with something different. If you choose to use an iconic name like Hannibal Lecter, I’d suggest a reinvention in spelling.

3. Setting: We’ve all had places capture our imaginations. I have several on my bucket list that I’ve read about in novels. The romance of a setting draws your readers into your story. The location becomes a character. I haveto visit the Florida cays after reading about them in two of my favorite authors’ books.

But how do you capture the essence of the setting if you’ve never been there? 
  • If you are able, take a research trip. 
  • Google Earth has great value to writers. You can get on the street level and “walk” through the town or countryside. 
  • Absorb it from another author’s book, then reinvent your take on it to suit your story.
  • I’m not a fan of travel guides; they don’t give us the real flavor or a place. But if you call the Chamber of Commerce or visitors bureau, or even a local church in the area, you can often get somebody to open up and tell you what you need to know. I’ve been dished the scoop on a town by a chatty accommodating employee.

When you find a setting that speaks to you, borrow it ... unless it’s a fictional location. Reinvent that setting by combining one location with another and to create your own fictional one. That’s what I did for my Chapel Springs series. I used three towns and made them into one.  

4. Character Quirks: I once read a book with a character who counted the spots on her ceiling instead of sheep every night. I borrowed it and reinvented it to a woman who counts spoons in everyone’s flatware drawer. Watch people, both friends and strangers. Take their quirks and expand them to work for yourstory. 

I compiled a long list of quirks, habits, and flaws by an Internet search, then I culled it to ones that would work in a story. Use your discretion when choosing; you don’t want to make your reader cringe.

5. Villains: We’ve all read villains we love to hate. If you’re stuck for villainous traits, find an iconic one and reinvent him/her with some new twists. Take the matron in the movie Annie, played by Carol Burnett. She seems a cleverly close reinvention of Cruella Deville. 

The point I’m making is this: authors have been stealing and reinventing for eons. You can’t take another author’s words. You can’t steal their characters. But you can take ideas and reinvent them for your own work. But don’t forget the word REINVENT. If you don’t, you’ll be nothing more than a copycat at best and a plagiarist at worst.

Literary Theft – The Value of Reinventing for Writers - @AneMulligan on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Tips for how writers can use and reinvent ideas creatively - @AneMulligan on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Award-winning author Ane Mulligan writes Southern-fried fiction served with a tall, sweet iced tea. She's a novelist, playwright and managing director of a community theatre. She resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband. You can find Ane at her websiteAmazon Author pageNovel RocketFacebookTwitter, and Instagram.