On the Ridiculous Idea that You Can Steal an Idea


Stop me when you know what famous book this is:
A young kid growing up in an oppressive family situation suddenly learns that he is one of a special class of children with special abilities, who are to be educated in a remote training facility where student life is dominated by an intense game played by teams flying in midair, at which this kid turns out to be exceptionally talented and a natural leader. He trains other kids in unauthorized extra sessions, which enrages his enemies, who attack him with the intention of killing him; but he is protected by his loyal, brilliant friends and gains strength from the love of some of his family members. He is given special guidance by an older man of legendary accomplishments who previously kept the enemy at bay. He goes on to become the crucial figure in a struggle against an unseen enemy who threatens the whole world.
If you said Harry Potter, you're right. But if you said Ender's Game . . . you're also right. This quote is from an article Orson Scott Card wrote, berating J.K. Rowling for this one time she got mad at someone for "stealing" her ideas.

Guys, you can't NOT steal ideas.

Don't believe me? Visit TV Tropes for like two seconds (if you dare). Such a site wouldn't even exist if the tropes listed there hadn't been done time and time again. Not because people are unoriginal, but because we are original, but that does not mean what you think it means.

Being original means we all take the same raw materials -- life -- and turn it into something unique. But it's because of those common raw materials that we all come up with chosen ones and special powers and wise old mentors and unlikely leaders. Because those are the things that move us.

Don't worry about someone stealing your idea, and don't worry about stealing someone else's. Ideas cannot be copyrighted and no one can win a lawsuit because you also made references to the Bible. If they could, the Tolkien estate would own Hasbro by now, and C.S. Lewis's benefactors would have a number of things to say to that guy who tried to sue Assassin's Creed.

Keep moving forward, taking people's ideas and letting people take yours. It's all good, and it'll come back around anyway. Because the goal is not originality or even money. The goal is to show people old things in a new way.

Your way.

13 comments:

Matthew MacNish said...

Amen to archetypes.

Sarah Ahiers said...

PREACH!
FWIW, my sister and I both said Ender's Game at first.

Cap'n Heine said...

Is this to comfort me for the Wizard of Oz/Five Man Band thing? :)

Miss Jack Lewis Baillot said...

I would have said Star Wars. I can see what you mean. That plot, (Outcast kid, turns out to be hero, saves the world) is most used. I've used it myself. It's the idea many like. And, as you said, lots of people want to tell it in their own way.

Angela Brown said...

Tropes are tropes for a reason. We can recognize lots of our own ideas in things being published right this moment, but as writers we take the steps to make them our own, shape them with our imagination, our own quirks and writing style.

As I was reading your example, I got caught up in your point. I was sitting there thinking "is this Ender or is this Harry?" lol!!!

Adam Heine said...

Heh, sorry. It wasn't meant as a response to you. It was actually a response to that Assassin's Creed link at the end there.

Emmet said...

You stole my blog post idea and how I see myself when I dream. Total D-bag!

Peggy Eddleman said...

Well said!

Adam Heine said...

Sue me.

Nicole Zoltack said...

TV tropes just sucks you in and never lets you go...

Jessica Silva said...

I just care that I guessed right. I was sweating there for a second...

Nissa Annakindt said...

I love both Ender's Game and the Harry Potter series, and I must say it never occurred to me that there were similarities like that!

Tyrean Martinson said...

Excellent post! It took me a while to learn this lesson as a writer, and it's often a question I get from the kids I teach at the homeschool co-op my family attends. Ideas are out there, and one of the beauties of humanity is that we have unique ideas and shared ideas that intertwine with each other in our imaginations and come out as something slightly new.