It’s all been done. Pencils down. Not.

Is it OK for your writing to be derivative of work by other authors that preceded it? I’ve struggled with this question because everything (no really… EVERYTHING) I have written is derivative of something by someone else that came before it. There have been too many stories written throughout history for a new story to NOT be derivative of something. I might add that most of these stories have been excellently executed.

A purist standpoint might be to simply say, “It’s all been done. Pencils down.” But I continue to read wonderful, new books or see movies that, while unoriginal, have a fresh voice or perspective. More importantly, I enjoy them. And that’s why we should not stop just because it isn’t completely original.

CREATIVE-WRITING-HAND-OUTTake The Matrix for example. The first movie, I mean. It is pretty clearly derived in part from the story of Jesus. A messiah is prophesied to free mankind, is found, dies (or appears to die) and resurrects as a powerful savior. It also borrows heavily from the stories in the Cyberpunk genre developed by Gibson, Dick and others. Still, it’s a great story and is rewarding to watch. That’s why we shouldn’t just stop.

The point is that if you give it a unique perspective and voice, even though the fundamental core of it has been done before, it’s OK. I think if you look at virtually anything that is written these days, you will find that it is derivative of something that came before it. Maybe the author was aware of it and maybe he wasn’t, but it has all been done before, but not quite like the author did it in the new piece. And that’s what makes it OK… for me, anyway.

I say this as I start the outline for a new novel with the working title of Shepherd. As I start this one, I have faith that I can provide a unique voice and a fresh feel to the vigilante crime genre and not just mimic what’s already been done.

Or, maybe I’ll just do a story about a rich guy who dresses up like a bat… er, owl, I mean. He’ll have headquarters in an owl cave… er, tree. He has an Owl-arang and other non-lethal weapons, and spends a lot of time at Hooters. I can rise above that level. And yes, I’m setting the bar pretty low for myself.


4 thoughts on “It’s all been done. Pencils down. Not.

  1. ‘Shepherd’ – good title. What is he shepherding? No doubt it isn’t sheep? People, children, souls? Or perhaps the MC is called Leon Shepherd! Intriguing. Best of luck with it, Mitch. :]

    • Hi Marion! How are you?
      Working title is now “Shepherd’s Flock” – about an antihero who kills pedophiles and rapists. Some of the girls he has saved fight with him. Think Dexter + Charlies’ Angels, set in an alternate universe of Death Watch religion and you won’t be far from wrong.

      It started out really dark and has gotten darker. I’m into chapter 3 and I’m not sure I want to keep going. It’s one thing to read about this stuff. It’s another thing entirely to have to get inside the mind of such a person and figure out what they would do. I’m all about getting out of the comfort zone, but this is pretty uncomfortable.

  2. These days I find I can hardly watch a thriller if it has too much guts and gore — let alone the news on TV. A book — ditto. But your outline sounds compelling.
    I agree — everything has been done before — but instead of a bad review — what about a rewrite from a different angle from another writer? Yes. I can’t quite see Owl-mans costume without seeing feathers flying! Now who IS his little friend? Chipmunk?


    • True enough, Kate. I admit, writing the first three chapters of Shepherd’s Flock is not a comfortable experience. It’s one thing to read a story like this, and it’s a nother thing entirely to write one, figuring out the twisted thought process of a really horrible antagonist character. I haven’t given up on it, but I did poke it with a ten foot pole for a week while working on rewring Life64.

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