Sometimes, you find inspiration in another work and you don’t even try to hide it: my story “Farewell, Something Lovely” is a rip-off of the Raymond Chandler novel Farewell, My Lovely. I’m okay with admitting my story uses the ideas and structure of the other. If it’s good enough for Shakespeare, why should I have a problem with it?
Sometimes, you take a bunch of different inspirations and mix them all together to produce a work that is different than its components. “The Boltcutter” is a product of both non-fiction articles regarding the region, time spent there, and espionage and military thrillers I’ve read. There’s no single point of inspiration that I could point to and say “that inspired the story.”
And sometimes, you think it’s column B, but really it’s column A.
I had started a story some time back about a team of Canadian special operators tasked with protecting a government figure in an east-central African country. Its working title is “the Detachment.” I thought it was something different, an amalgam of thrillers read and action movies seen. Then I was re-watching episodes of the Unit – it’s on Netflix and sometimes I’m bored – and I stumble upon the episode “Unannounced,” and many of the aspects of my story were there.
Inspiration is funny that way. No matter how original you might be, you can’t help but be influenced by other works that you have seen and enjoyed – or have not enjoyed but have marveled at how the creator employed a certain technique or idea.
I honestly don’t think there’s much original about anything I write, the key is to present it in a different way and present it in my voice. I am trying to entertain with my writing. I am not and will never be a great artist. And even great artists are inspired by existing works.
In my mind, creators need to worry less about being wholly original than about being good and being entertaining. If you find something that inspires you, wear it on your sleeve. There’s no need to hide it. Those that enjoy your work are going to seek out that inspiration and then you can help to bring something you love to a wider audience.
I’m not, however, a big believer in many of the romantic myths about writing, so your mileage may vary.
Have you not read Farewell, My Lovely? Do so!
“Unannounced” was on the first season of the Unit.
I showcased the opening of the draft of “the Detachment” here. It is undergoing revisions.
“The Boltcutter” is the first story I’m presenting for Friday Fiction, and you can find part 1 here.