I’ve never read Steal Like an Artist, but I completely agree with the synopsis I just read on Wikipedia (same thing right?). The concept that nothing is new under the sun has always been firmly ingrained in my psyche. It’s biblical. As a result I’ve had no qualms for allowing other works to inspire my own.
There is a very big difference between ripoff and inspired by.
A ripoff is straight up plagiarism. It’s taking someone else's work and presenting it as your own. One observes an idea and instead of allowing it to be the seed that grows into a new original idea, they repackage and sell it as is. Disgusting. Lazy. And very, very sad.
An excellent example of inspiration is the video game Marathon. This 1994 masterpiece by Bungie, Inc. took inspiration from Frank Herbert’s 1979 novel, The Jesus Incident. Elements from the book informed Bungie’s decisions in story, characters and even gameplay elements. The result was one of the most impactful video game series of the time.
Marathon set a standard of narative storytelling in the video game medium which was, at the time, mostly nonexistent. Bungie also blazed the trail for the future of online first-person shooter multiplayer. They pioneered many of the standard FPS competitive and cooperative modes that are present in contemporary video games.
The FPS owes Marathon for inspiring several modern gameplay mechanics. Bungie in turn can thank Frank Herbert for his novel which inspired their game world. This is a beautiful example of how we steal/are inspired by ideas spread across a variety of media. Video games drawing inspiration from literature. Technology from nature. Music from math. Ice cream from flash animation.
In my mind, Originality is simply a unique combination of known elements.
My first story idea that I can recall was inspired by X-Men, Harry Potter and Area 51 urban legends. Supernatural abilities/talents always fascinated me. I was never a consumer of comics, but I was a fan of the movies that they inspired. I loved the sheer variety of powers present in the original X-Men movie. The premise that these super-powered beings came about from saltation didn’t jive with me (where are all the failed mutations?). But I did appreciate that all X-Men powers came from a single conceit, mutation. So I began thinking about what I would use for my own quasi-realistic reason for superpowers. I settled on the dubious concepts of ESP and psychokinesis as motivators for my characters’ supernatural abilities.
Harry Potter grabbed me at a young age (this book cultivated my love for reading) not just with its magical world but also with the close relationship that Harry, Ron and Hermione shared. I didn’t want to just go with a psychic boarding school; it would be too similar to J.K. Rowling’s premise. Instead I settled on a clandestine government organization that lured psychically gifted children into a program that cultivated and experimented with their abilities. And where do you do secret government stuff? Area 51.
Mythology and legends (urban or otherwise) were also always appealing to me. Nordic gods, the Old Testament, aliens. That’s my jam. I love the lore that shrouds Area 51. It seemed like the perfect location to hide my Home For Psychic Children That Also Double As Guinea Pigs In Government Research (not even a working title). Yes, not all that original. Area 51 has been done to death. But I liked the idea that the rumors of alien research are a mere cover for something equally extrodinary. Heck, maybe there will be a secret wing of the compound that is still all about aliens (and run by Elvis).
What I lifted from X-Men, Harry Potter and Area 51 is very obvious. But this is merely the start of an idea. I collected concepts that resonated with me personally and I am going to use them as a jumping off point to create something that is innately mine. Drawing parallels to the source materials may be easy and I will not be able to deny the inspiration. But it won’t be the same. Common ingredients have gone into my head and an entirely unique mixture will come out to be presented to the world.
For example, everyone likes LEGOs. (Shut up, Steve. You don’t like anything.) Its fun to follow the instructions and build exactly what’s on the box. But things get really interesting when we improvise, combine with other sets and create something new out of parts that we already have. We are surrounded by other people’s work. Breathe in the inspiration and create something unique and beautiful.
P.S. This concept is so copyrighted.