Alright. For all of you who celebrate such things, Happy Independence Day if you’re an American. Happy “It’s Just Another Day at the Office” Day to everyone else. I’ll find a way to tie this in shortly. Really.
On this date in 1862, according to the great oracle Bing.com, Alice Liddell, 10, asks Charles Dodgson to tell her a story while they’re boating near Oxford, England. He weaves a tale of a bored little girl who suddenly finds herself down a rabbit hole. Dodgson will later publish ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland‘ under his pen name, Lewis Carroll.
So what does that have to do with me (or you)?
Alice in Wonderland was one of my inspirations to become a writer in the first place. The crazy cast of characters, the improbable (yet somehow believable) circumstances, and the wry, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor all appealed to me. Couple that with its ability to reach children and adults alike and I was hooked.
Of course, the trick with any motivating work is to give tribute without plagiarism. It’s much like America getting its freedom from Great Britain: you keep some things from the Mother Country, but you work very hard at making it its own entity. (I told you I’d tie it in somehow.)
Any time that you want to borrow from another work, keep that in mind. You want your finished work to be as different from the original as the United States is from Great Britain. This isn’t going to happen overnight; if you think using another book for inspiration will result in an instant hit, think again. Just like the newly countrified colonies had to go through growing pains that included a Civil War, you’ll go through many an internal (and sometimes external) war before you get it right.
So how do you avoid stealing from your inspiration while still giving tribute?
- Never write directly from the original. I will usually read through the book that is inspiring me and make a few notes. I then do my best to ignore my muse for the remainder of the first draft.
- Whether you outline or free write (pantsing), keep your mind on the bigger story, not the original inspiration.
- If you have a friend who also likes your inspiration, see if you can get them to beta read for you and have them mark any places where the resemblance is a little too much like clone, rather than bastard child.
- When you’re doing your rewrite, check for things that are overly similar yourself. Be brutal; it’s better to catch the weeds before they take over your whole garden.
Remember, while it’s great to want to honor your inspirations, do it in a way that respects their creative efforts and creates something new.
Then go out and eat a hot dog and chips and think: I could’ve been stuck with bangers and mash.